Saturday, May 27, 2017

Saturday Morning Male Beauty - Pt 2

GOP Strategist Admits He Colluded with Russian Hackers

In light of the latest bombshell story in the Washington Post, Republican and Trump apologists are desperately arguing that there is no proof of Trump/Russia collusion, a piece in Salon looks at one GOP strategist who admits that he colluded with Russian hackers - and shared information with Trump confident Roger Stone.  If nothing else, the Trump presidency seems to have brought new life to investigative reporting, something that is most welcomed.  Of course, if we had seen this kind of reporting during the 2016 presidential campaign, Hillary Clinton would likely be president.   I truly hope that the practice of false equivalency dies in the process that is ongoing.  Here are article highlights on the admitted GOP collusion with Russian hackers:
The U.S. intelligence community has long since concluded Russia meddled in the 2016 election, and it was reported shortly after the 2016 presidential election that a GOP superPAC linked to Paul Ryan used illegally hacked material to attack Democratic House candidates. But a bombshell report published on Thursday confirms that Republican political operatives were working with the Russian government to hurt Hillary Clinton and Democrats during the election — the first direct evidence of so-called collusion.
The Wall Street Journal reported that hacked information was posted on a blog run by Aaron Nevins, the political operative, and then passed along to top Trump adviser Roger Stone during the campaign. The Republican operative in Florida received a trove of Democratic documents from the allegedly Kremlin-linked hacker, Guccifer 2.0. For months, both Congress and the FBI have been scrutinizing evidence that associates of Trump may have colluded with Russia during the campaign.
Nevins confirmed to the Journal that he told hacker Guccifer 2.0 to “feel free to send any Florida based information” after learning that the hacker had tapped into Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) computers last summer.
Nevins told the Journal that, after receiving the stolen documents from the hacker, he “realized it was a lot more than even Guccifer knew that he had.” The stolen DCCC documents also contained sensitive information on voters in key Florida districts, breaking down how many people were considered dependable Democratic voters, undecided Democrats, Republican voters and the like. Nevins made a war analogy, describing the data he received to Guccifer 2.0 as akin to a “map to where all the troops are deployed.”
After Nevins published some of the material on the blog, using his own pseudonym, Guccifer 2.0 sent a link of the information to close Trump associate Roger Stone — who is currently under federal investigation for potential collusion with Russia.
Stone told the Journal that while he did receive a link to Nevins’s blog from Guccifer 2.0, he didn’t share the stolen data published on the blog with anyone.
In addition to receiving hacked information about Democratic races in Florida, Nevins also received internal details about congressional districts in Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia. The Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC with close ties to House Speaker Paul Ryan, eventually used the material that was stolen by hackers in attack ads against several Democrats.
Anthony Bustamante, a Republican campaign consultant for Rep. Brian Mast (R-FL), told the Journal that he used the stolen information to plan ad buys and better target a mailer effort: “I did adjust some voting targets based on some data I saw from the leaks.”
For his part, Trump has repeatedly denied any coordination with Russian officials. The Kremlin has also rejected any connection to Guccifer 2.0. But both the Department of Homeland Security and Director of National Intelligence believe Guccifer 2.0 is tied to Russian military intelligence.
And Republicans are OK with this?  WTF has happened to the GOP?

Why We Do Not Want Mike Pence as President

As much as the nation needs Donald Trump removed from the office of the presidency, the big worry is that Mike Pence, an ignorance embracing evangelical Christian and bigot, might be his replacement unless we are lucky enough to have pence also caught up in the Russiagate scandal.  For LGBT Americans, Pence poses a special threat given his record of anti-LGBT bigotry, including signing a falsely named "religious freedom" law while governor of Indiana.  But others need to worry about what this closed minded religious zealot might push as his agenda.  The New York Times has a very unflattering piece on Pence.  Here are excerpts:
Mr. Pence’s great appeal to many people now is that he is not Donald Trump. Liberals salivate that Robert Mueller might metaphorically reverse an election they see as stolen by a steak salesman and his Moscow buddies. Conservatives dream of ridding themselves of a nutbag and installing a man who can pursue tax cuts and a few more Justice Neil Gorsuches without the fear of a third world war being started because of something Mr. Trump heard on Infowars.
Still, maybe we should all stop and ponder an actual Pence presidency.
It is possible that we could replace the most flamboyant and flamboyantly unqualified president in history with the most quietly unqualified and unexamined president since Warren Harding. (He has never answered whether he believes in evolution, but the evidence is not encouraging.)
Mr. Trump was the bloated Macy’s parade float that no one thought had a chance, and not a lot of time was spent investigating his generic sidekick holding the ropes.
Mr. Pence was elected governor of Indiana in 2012 with less than 50 percent of the vote. Many of the politicos I talked to in Indiana described him as ambitious for the sake of ambition, with no ideological compass other than his evangelical Christianity. They thought that, unlike the previous governor, Mitch Daniels, Mr. Pence was interested in the job mainly to check off executive experience on his presidential-candidate résumé.
He certainly couldn’t stress his 12 years in Congress — an earlier congressional bid exploded when he used campaign funds to pay his mortgage — where he passed exactly zero bills that became law but frequently introduced legislation to defund Planned Parenthood.
Mr. Pence wrote in 2001 that the link between smoking and cancer was not proved, but during the 2012 campaign he hid his paleo-conservative views, talking instead of getting Indiana back to work. He pivoted after taking charge.
In 2015, conservative activists pressured Indiana legislators to introduce the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a bill that would make it easier for Indiana business owners to discriminate against gays if it offended their religious beliefs. Mr. Pence stood on the sidelines as the bill was constructed and signed the legislation in private. He then released a photograph of the signing that was so dumbfounding that Indiana State Representative Ed DeLaney, a Democrat, was accused of Photoshopping it by his colleagues when he circulated it. The photo showed Mr. Pence, pen in hand, surrounded by nuns and monks and three conservative backers, each with violently anti-gay beliefs. Immediately, corporations and convention groups threatened to pull business out of Indianapolis, a move that could have cost the state millions.
The controversy metastasized. . . . . . Mr. Stephanopoulos gave Mr. Pence two chances to say he was not in favor of discrimination against gay people. He declined and pronounced he would not revise the law.
This did not sit well back home in Indiana. Legislative leaders met to work their way out of the political disaster and Mr. Pence wasn’t invited. A compromise was reached that pleased no one but was mushy enough that the tourists came back. Mr. Pence signed the bill and slipped out of the statehouse without taking any questions.
“America needs to understand that this is what they’re going to get,” said Scott Pelath, the Democratic House minority leader. “He is not going to look at something, assess it, think critically about it and go.
The Religious Freedom Restoration Act had killed Mr. Pence’s presidential dreams; now he was trying to hang on to his day job. In April, he was booed at the home opener of the Indianapolis Indians, the city’s AAA team, shortly after he signed a restrictive anti-abortion bill. A May poll found the governor and his Democratic opponent in a statistical dead heat.
On July 15, Mr. Trump threw Mr. Pence the life preserver. The Indiana governor gave Mr. Trump cover with the Christian right. And Mr. Pence proved to have something in common with Mr. Trump: Most observers thought he won the vice-presidential debate with Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia by sticking to his talking points, no matter their relationship with reality. (PolitiFact ruled that over 40 percent of Mr. Pence’s statements were either false or mostly false.)
Mr. Pence has done little as vice president to suggest he is rising to the occasion. As head of the transition committee, he was either (a) kept in the dark about Michael Flynn’s being investigated for his international ties or (b) lied about it. Neither is a comforting thought. Both are totally him.
The only certainty of a Pence presidency is a Christian conservative bias for judges who will make Americans long for the relatively sane Justice Gorsuch.
Do I think Mike Pence is less likely to start a nuclear war than Donald Trump or to throw a reporter in jail over a Twitter beef about his daughter’s shoe line? Absolutely. There is that upside.
Let's hope and pray that Russiagate takes down Pence too.  The man is a menace, albeit a different sort of menace than Der Trumpenführer. 

Trump/Kushner Wanted Secret Communications Channel with Kremlin

Another day and another breaking headline suggesting that perhaps we are indeed moving closer to two words: treason and impeachment.  Increasingly, one feel's that we are living a real life version of David Baldacci's Absolute Power or some other spy thriller with a rogue president of the United States.  Late yesterday the Washington Post broke a new story that revealed that monitored communications between Russian ambassador  Sergey Kislyak and Moscow indicated that Jared Kushner and Michael Flynn met with Kislyak and discussed using Russian communications networks to allow Trump officials to communicate with the Kremlin without detection by American intelligence services.  Obviously, it is hard to believe that Trump was not aware of the proposal.  One can only ask what did they want to communicate that could not be seen by American CIA, FBI and other agencies?  It's almost to the point where I am going to start addressing my "friends" who voted for Trump by the term "comrade."  Of course, Fox News will either not report this story or so pervert it that it bears no resemblance to reality.  Here are highlights from the Post story:
Jared Kushner and Russia’s ambassador to Washington discussed the possibility of setting up a secret and secure communications channel between Trump’s transition team and the Kremlin, using Russian diplomatic facilities in an apparent move to shield their pre-inauguration discussions from monitoring, according to U.S. officials briefed on intelligence reports.
Ambassador Sergey Kislyak reported to his superiors in Moscow that Kushner, son-in-law and confidant to then-President-elect Trump, made the proposal during a meeting on Dec. 1 or 2 at Trump Tower, according to intercepts of Russian communications that were reviewed by U.S. officials. Kislyak said Kushner suggested using Russian diplomatic facilities in the United States for the communications.
The meeting also was attended by Michael Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser.
The White House disclosed the meeting only in March, playing down its significance. But people familiar with the matter say the FBI now considers the encounter, as well as another meeting Kushner had with a Russian banker, to be of investigative interest.
Kislyak reportedly was taken aback by the suggestion of allowing an American to use Russian communications gear at its embassy or consulate — a proposal that would have carried security risks for Moscow as well as the Trump team.
The White House declined to comment. Robert Kelner, a lawyer for Flynn, declined to comment. The Russian Embassy did not respond to requests for comment.
Kushner’s apparent interest in establishing a secret channel with Moscow, rather than relying on U.S. government systems, has added to the intrigue surrounding the Trump administration’s relationship with Russia.
To some officials, it also reflects a staggering naivete. The FBI closely monitors the communications of Russian officials in the United States, and it maintains a nearly constant surveillance of its diplomatic facilities. The National Security Agency monitors the communications of Russian officials overseas.
Current and former U.S. intelligence officials said that although Russian diplomats have secure means of communicating with Moscow, Kushner’s apparent request for access to such channels was extraordinary.
The discussion of a secret channel adds to a broader pattern of efforts by Trump’s closest advisers to obscure their contacts with Russian counterparts. 
Kushner’s interactions with Russians — including Kislyak and an executive for a Russian bank under U.S. sanctions — were not acknowledged by the White House until they were exposed in media reports.
In addition to their discussion about setting up the communications channel, Kushner, Flynn and Kislyak also talked about arranging a meeting between a representative of Trump and a “Russian contact” in a third country whose name was not identified, according to the anonymous letter.
The Post reported in April that Erik Prince, the founder of the private security firm Blackwater, now called Academi, and an informal adviser to the Trump transition team, met on Jan. 11 — nine days before Trump’s inauguration — in the Seychelles islands in the Indian Ocean with a representative of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Last evening on satellite radio, former GOP chair Michael Steele said the story, if true was very bad.

Saturday Morning Male Beauty - Pt 1

Friday, May 26, 2017

Friday Morning Male Beauty - Pt 2

Politico: Meet the Real Jared Kushner

A viper behind a pretty face?
Now that it is known that he is a person of interest in the Russiagate investigation, I suspect that we will be learning much more about presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner.  Based on a piece in Politico's magazine section, what we are likely to learn is not going to be good or flattering. Seemingly,  in the opinion of the article's author, beneath the polite veneer he works to maintain, Kushner is far more like his thuggish father-in-law and only too willing to play dirty and engage in underhanded conduct.  One would have thought that Kushner would have realized the truth would come out at some point.  His ties to Russiagate will likely accelerate that process and his reputation in society circles could well take a hit.  Here are brief highlights from a very long article:
He was supposed to be the calm one, cool and unflappable under his Ray-Bans and beltless blue bespoke suits. If Steve Bannon was the Rumpelstiltskin of the administration, donning multiple half-tucked dress shirts at a time and always carrying a clutch of briefing papers and barreling through the administrative state, Jared Kushner, through pedigree and temperament, could reach out one of his long, elegant fingers and tap everyone in the West Wing on the shoulder and urge them to just cool out a bit. In a White House sullied by ties to Russia and all sorts of unsavory characters from the fringe, Kushner was set to float above, surrounding himself with fellow figures from the elite worlds of Manhattan finance and real estate and deep-sixing the harder-edged ideas of the White House’s “nationalist” wing.
Except that this isn’t quite how it has gone in the White House over the last several months. It was Kushner who reportedly pushed for the firing of FBI Director James Comey over the objections of Bannon. And it was Kushner who was the lone voice urging for a counterattack after Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announced the appointment of a special prosecutor, according to the New York Times. And it is now Kushner whose family’s business activities leave him open to the same level of charges of conflict of interest that have dogged his wife and father-in-law, and Kushner who appears to be as closely tied to the Russian government as anyone serving in the White House: NBC News and the Washington Post reported Thursday that the FBI is taking a close look at his contacts with the Russians.
The widespread assumption liberals make about Kushner seems to be this: Because he is soft-spoken, slim and handsome, with degrees from Harvard and NYU and a family that donates to Democrats, he couldn’t possibly be the same guy knifing his West Wing rivals and urging the president to go to war with the Justice Department and the FBI But that assumption is wrong. . . . . those who know him from his days as a young New York real estate magnate and newspaper publisher say that America is just getting to know the Jared Kushner they have always known. . .
By all accounts, Jared was deeply affected by his father’s prison sentence [for illegal campaign contributions, tax evasion and witness tampering], and visited him weekly.
And so in an effort to rehabilitate the family name, Kushner focused the family business on Manhattan and purchased the New York Observer, a pink-paged society weekly that made up in influence among the social and literary elite what it lacked in circulation or profitability (full disclosure: I worked as a political reporter there from 2010-2012). But the paper soon expanded into coverage of Kushner’s home turf of commercial real estate, and people in that world saw the paper’s editorial resources devoted to pushing Kushner’s agenda or settling his scores.
“The Observer became his mouthpiece in the world of New York City real estate,” said one prominent real estate broker who asked to remain anonymous because “like everybody else in New York and New Jersey real estate I realize there is no upside to talking about Jared Kushner or Donald Trump.”
[T]he anger toward him among former Observer employees runs deep. . . . . Just before the election, Kahlon described her former boss on Facebook thusly: “We’re talking about a guy who isn’t particularly bright or hard-working, doesn’t actually know anything, has bought his way into everything ever (with money he got from his criminal father), who is deeply insecure and obsessed with fame (you don’t buy the NYO, marry Ivanka Trump, or constantly talk about the phone calls you get from celebrities if it’s in your nature to ‘shun the spotlight’), and who is basically a shithead.”
Meanwhile, damaging stories keep landing as journalists dig into the Kushner real estate empire, which is said to have taken part in at least $7 billion worth of acquisitions over the past decade and, according to Forbes, to have a worth close to $1 billion. A recent investigation by ProPublica revealed that Kushner Companies have bought thousands of distressed apartment complexes in Rust Belt cities in recent years, hardly the stuff of Manhattan dreams. A subsidiary that manages the complexes has been ruthless in pushing out those who didn’t pay their rent, ProPublica reported, hitting them with steep late fees and even going after them in court.
Alec MacGillis, who reported the story, found that few of the “Kushnerville” residents he met knew their money was going to a company owned by the son in law of President Trump. That Jared Kushner?” one exclaimed. “Oh, my God. And I thought he was the good one.”
Read the whole piece.

Trump's and the GOP's Contempt for the Poor and Low Income Americans

A man in Welch, W.Va., with groceries from a food bank that supports local families

Between the latest GOP Trumpcare proposal and the budget proposal put forth by the White House, it is very evident that the combined agenda is one that favors the very wealthy and shows nothing but contempt for pretty much everyone else.  The most special contempt is reserved for the poor, the sick, and low income workers.  Under both the latest Trumpcare proposal and Der Trumpenführer's budget proposal, the wealthy would receive literally trillions of dollars in tax cuts while programs that assist the less fortunate would be devastated.  Yet, too many white Americans continue to vote for Republicans such as happened in Montana where the GOP candidate had been charged with assault. Apparently, many whites will vote for their own economic and financial destruction as long as appeals are made to their racism, religious extremism and xenophobia.  Paul Krugman looks at the ugliness of the Trump/GOP proposals.  
For journalists covering domestic policy, this past week poses some hard choices. Should we focus on the Trump budget’s fraudulence — not only does it invoke $2 trillion in phony savings, it counts them twice — or on its cruelty? Or should we talk instead about the Congressional Budget Office assessment of Trumpcare, which would be devastating for older, poorer and sicker Americans?
There is, however, a unifying theme to all these developments. And that theme is contempt — Donald Trump’s contempt for the voters who put him in office.
You may recall Trump’s remark during the campaign that “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters.” Well, he hasn’t done that, at least so far. He is, however, betting that he can break every promise he made to the working-class voters who put him over the top, and still keep their support. Can he win that bet?
When it comes to phony budget math — remember his claims that he would pay off the national debt? — he probably can. We’re not talking about anything subtle here; we’re talking about a budget that promises to “abolish the death tax,” then counts $330 billion in estate tax receipts in its rosy forecast. But even I don’t expect to see this kind of fraud get much political traction.
The bigger question is whether someone who ran as a populist, who promised not to cut Social Security or Medicaid, who assured voters that everyone would have health insurance, can keep his working-class support while pursuing an agenda so anti-populist it takes your breath away.
To make this concrete, let’s talk about West Virginia, which went Trump by more than 40 percentage points, topped only by Wyoming. What did West Virginians think they were voting for?
They are, after all, residents of a poor state that benefits immensely from federal programs: 29 percent of the population is on Medicaid, almost 19 percent on food stamps. The expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare is the main reason the percentage of West Virginians without health insurance has halved since 2013.
Beyond that, more than 4 percent of the population, the highest share in the nation, receives Social Security disability payments, . . . . people who suffer from chronic diseases, like diabetics — whom Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s budget director, thinks we shouldn’t take care of because it’s their own fault for eating poorly.
And just to be clear, we’re talking about white people here: At 93 percent white, West Virginia is one of the most minority- and immigrant-free states in America. . . . . they also believed that he was a different kind of Republican. Maybe he would take benefits away from Those People, but he would protect the programs white working-class voters, in West Virginia and elsewhere, depend on.  What they got instead was the mother of all sucker punches.
Trumpcare, the budget office tells us, would cause 23 million people to lose health insurance, largely through cuts to Medicaid — remember, the program that benefits almost a third of West Virginians. It would also lead to soaring premiums — we’re talking increases on the order of 800 percent — for older Americans whose incomes are low but not low enough to qualify for Medicaid. That describes a lot of Trump voters. Then we need to add in the Trump budget, which calls for further drastic cuts in Medicaid, plus large cuts in food stamps and in disability payments.
What would happen to West Virginia if all these Trump policies went into effect? Basically, it would be apocalyptic: Hundreds of thousands would lose health insurance; medical debt and untreated conditions would surge; and there would be an explosion in extreme poverty, including a lot of outright hunger.
Oh, and it’s not just about crucial benefits, it’s also about jobs. Coal isn’t coming back; these days, West Virginia’s biggest source of employment is health care and social assistance. How many of those jobs would survive savage cuts in Medicaid and disability benefits?
Now, to be fair, the Trump budget would protect West Virginians from the ravages of the estate tax, which affects around 20 — that’s right, 20 — of the state’s residents each year.
In the case of West Virginians, this scam could end up pretty much destroying their state.
Will they ever realize this, and admit it to themselves? More important, will they be prepared to punish him the only way they can — by voting for Democrats?
True, I have little sympathy for the cretins who fell for Trump's and the GOP's lies that they would take care of then.  With more than 30 years of history to show that "trickle down economics" only benefits the rich, they should have known better and closed their ears to appeals to racism and misogyny.  But those I have the most disgust with are those whites in particular who will not be hurt by the Trump/GOP proposals who go to church on Sundays and feign fealty to the Gospel message (some post falsely pious things on Facebook as well) even as they vote for politicians that are pushing agendas diametrically the opposite of what a true Christian should support. Their churches are little more than social clubs.  They most assuredly are not fighting for implementing the Gospel message. It's these folks - and the Christofascists - who have helped me to walk away from Christianity.  They are hypocrites and modern day Pharisees with whom I want to have as little contact as possible.  

4th Circuit Rules 10-3 Against Trump Muslim Ban

Donald Trump ranted against the 9th Circuit when his first attempt at a ban against Muslims went down in flames. Now, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit has struck down Der Trumpenführer's second attempt at banning Muslims from entering America.    In its ruling, the Court recognized the motivation behind the executive order: religious based  intolerance and animus. The ruling will not sit well with Christofascists but ought to be encouraging for those who continue to believe in true religious freedom - not the perverted Christofascist version - and the First Amendment.  Salon looks at the ruling which will likely push the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.  Here are highlights:
Yet another federal court ruled against President Donald Trump’s ban on travel from six majority-Muslim nations. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the so-called Muslim travel ban executive order “drips with religious intolerance, animus, and discrimination.” The court refused to lift a nationwide injunction blocking the ban.  
In a 10-3 ruling, the federal appeals court in Richmond, Virginia, noted that President Trump’s power to deny entry to immigrants, while “broad,” isn’t “absolute.”
[A]n Executive Order that in text speaks with vague words of national security, but in context drips with religious intolerance, animus, and discrimination. Surely the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment yet stands as an untiring sentinel for the protection of one of our most cherished founding principles—that government shall not establish any religious orthodoxy, or favor or disfavor one religion over another. Congress granted the President broad power to deny entry to aliens, but that power is not absolute. It cannot go unchecked
Trump’s revised ban “cannot be divorced from the cohesive narrative linking it to the animus that inspired it,” Chief Judge Roger Gregory wrote.
Trump’s revised ban was announced in March after the first version of the ban was shot down by federal courts. But the ban on people from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen from entering the U.S. for 90 days and all refugees for 120 days never got off the ground because federal courts blocked it just hours before it was set to go into effect.

Trump Calls Germany "Very Evil", Threatens Trade War

While Donald Trump kissed the asses of members of the Saudi royal family and said not a word about Saudi Arabia's horrific human rights abuses and religious extremism, he apparently has no qualms about trashing America's European allies.  In addition to deriding NATO countries and shoving the president of Montenegro out of his way during a photo, Trump decided to pick a fight with Germany and bitched about the sale of German cars in America, seemingly oblivious to the reality that many BMW's and Mercedes-Benz's are built in states like South Carolina and Alabama and that the two companies employ thousands of Americans.  Volkswagen Chattanooga  (Tennessee) employs another 2,000 Americans. The Raw Story looks at Trump's anti-German statements.  Here are excerpts:
President Donald Trump is ready to fight Germany in an auto battle according to Germany’s Der Spiegel.
Trump got a chilly reception at the NATO summit in Belgium after attacking fellow members. But he was caught pledging a battle with German automakers as part of his anger with “back dues” he feels the country owes to NATO. As CNN’s Jake Tapper noted Thursday, “Trump seems to think it’s like a country club.”
In a discussion about the country’s trade surplus, Trump said. “The Germans are evil, very evil.”  “Look at the millions of cars they sell in the US, and we’ll stop that,” sources told Der Spiegel. 
According to the report, EU Commissioner Jean-Claude Juncker took up for Germany explaining that “free trade is good for all.”
According to a report from the “Süddeutsche Zeitung,” the EU allies were horrified by the willingness of the Americans to view global trade with such a lack of awareness. Trump’s economic consultant Gary Cohn was said to have chided German auto trade during a discussion between the US and Germany and the USA and Belgium. Trump had previously attacked them during another conversation.
“I would say to BMW if they want to build a factory in Mexico and sell cars to the US without a 35 percent tax, they can forget that,” Trump said at the time.
Trump is bothered by Germany’s trade surplus because many other countries have deficits, particularly the U.S.

The man is an idiot.  Meanwhile, the husband and I have owned or now own 7 Mercedes-Benz's  and a Volkswagen.  Why?  Because of the quality of the cars for the money.  Perhaps if American automakers focused more on quality and fuel efficiency rather than big ass SUV's Germany would have fewer car sales in America.

Friday Morning Male Beauty - Pt 1

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Jared Kushner Now a Focus in Russiagate investigation

While Der Trumpenführer is on his first foreign trip -  and no doubt hoping he can distract the media from Russiagate coverage here at home - the Washington Post and New York Times, among others, continue to have new stories that are not only keeping Russiagate alive, but breathing even more new life into the roiling scandal,  Now, the Washington Post has released a story that reveals that Jared Kushner is a target in the probe due to (i) his numerous meetings with Russian officials and bankers, and (ii) his failure to report such meetings when he applied for security clearance.  Frankly, it makes sense that Trump would have used Kushner as his go between with Russian operatives since he is both a family member and reportedly one of Trump's closest advisers.  That said, Mike Flynn, who had received payments from Russia, also remains a target of the investigation.  Here are highlights from the story:
Investigators are focusing on a series of meetings held by Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and an influential White House adviser, as part of their probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and related matters, according to people familiar with the investigation.
Kushner, who held meetings in December with the Russian ambassador and a banker from Moscow, is being investigated because of the extent and nature of his interactions with the Russians, the people said.
FBI agents also remain keenly interested in former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn and former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, but Kushner is the only current White House official known to be considered a key person in the probe.
The Post has not been told that Kushner is a target — or the central focus — of the investigation, and he has not been accused of any wrongdoing. “Target” is a word that generally refers to someone who is the main suspect of investigators’ attention, though prosecutors can and do bring charges against people who are not marked with that distinction.
In addition to possible coordination between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign to influence the 2016 presidential election, investigators are also looking broadly into possible financial crimes — but the people familiar with the matter, who were not authorized to speak publicly, did not specify who or what was being examined.
In early December, Kushner met in New York with the Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak, and he later sent a deputy to meet with Kislyak. 
Kushner also met in December with Sergey Gorkov, the head of Vnesheconombank, which has been the subject of U.S. sanctions following Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its support of separatists in eastern Ukraine.
In addition to the December meetings, a former senior intelligence official said FBI agents had been looking closely at earlier exchanges between Trump associates and the Russians dating to the spring of 2016, including one at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington. Kushner and Kislyak — along with close Trump adviser and current attorney general Jeff Sessions — were present at an April 2016 event at the Mayflower where then-candidate Trump promised in a speech to seek better relations with Russia. It is unclear whether Kushner and Kislyak interacted there.
In many ways, Kushner is a unique figure inside the White House.   He is arguably the president’s most trusted adviser, and he is also a close member of the president’s family. His list of policy responsibilities is vast — his foreign policy portfolio alone includes Canada and Mexico, China, and peace in the Middle East — yet he rarely speaks publicly about any of them.
A small group of lawmakers known as the Gang of Eight was recently notified of the change in tempo and focus in the investigation at a classified briefing.
Investigators are continuing to look aggressively into the dealings of Flynn, and a grand jury in Alexandria, Va., recently issued a subpoenas for records related to Flynn’s businesses and finances, according to people familiar with the matter.
Separately from the probe now run by Mueller, Flynn is being investigated by the Pentagon’s top watchdog for his foreign payments. Flynn also received $45,000 to appear in 2015 with Russian President Vladimir Putin at a dinner for RT, a Kremlin-controlled media organization.

Keep the popcorn coming.  To be honest, I want to see Trump - and Pence - go down and whoever needs to go with them is fine with me.  

Thursday Morning Male Beauty - Pt 2

Protecting LGBT Youth From Betsy DeVos and Bullying

With Republicans pushing for "bathroom bills" and "religious freedom laws" - better described as special right to discriminate laws - and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos wanting to "bring God back into the classroom," the atmosphere for LGBT children and youths could quickly become toxic. And then there is racist and homophobic Jeff Sessions' reversal of Justice Department support for the protection of LGBT youth under existing laws that would grant protection against discrimination due to sexual orientation and/or gender identity.  It is a troubling situation, especially given the higher drop out and suicide rate for LGBT youth, not because of their sexuality or gender identity per se, but because of the mistreatment and abuse the "godly folk" and their off spring believe they have the right to inflict upon them.  Indeed, Betsy DeVos' family has given millions of dollars to groups that seek to guaranty the continued right to abuse and bully LGBT students and obstruct efforts to protect them.  A piece in The Advocate looks at the problem and proposes some solutions that may be difficult to achieve given the anti-LGBT agenda being pushed by the Trump/Pence regime.  Here are excerpts: 
A recently released RTI International study sheds new light on the school safety issues facing LGBTQ youth. The study, which examined two decades of research on victimization among LGBTQ youth, uncovered a troubling picture of the environments LGBTQ students face in schools.
Physical and verbal bullying of LGBTQ students is commonplace. In a representative sample of eighth-graders in Washington State, 14 percent of boys and 11 percent of girls reported being bullied because of their perceived sexual orientation in the past 30 days alone. LGBTQ students are two to three times more likely than their peers to be physically assaulted or threatened at school. 
Students who experience anti-LGBTQ bullying are significantly more likely to report depression and suicide attempts, skipping school, poorer school performance, and dropping out of school. Victims of anti-LGBTQ bullying tend to fare worse than students bullied for other reasons, perhaps due to the ways that hate-related victimization reinforces existing perceptions of hostility (e.g., hearing homophobic comments at school).
Even within this scenario, Orwellian equality rears its head. While research shows many LGBTQ students are victimized, some are more likely to be than others. Transgender youth and youth with unique gender expressions are at a higher risk for bullying, as are those in rural or impoverished communities and those who attend schools without gay-straight alliances. 
As LGBTQ individuals come out earlier than before, it’s becoming even more pressing for schools to create a safe environment for their students.
Action is urgently needed to address the hostile environment that LGBTQ youth face at school and its effects on school engagement, mental health, and long-term opportunities. Our study points to three potential strategies that could help to address these issues:
Competency and advocacy training for school psychologists and teachers — who generally report supportive attitudes toward LGBTQ students but lack the knowledge and skills to advocate for them — could help create more supportive, less hostile climates in schools.
Fostering the development of gay-straight alliances in schools, which seem to offer some protection against school-based victimization risk, is another promising approach. Although secondary schools are not permitted to ban gay-straight alliances if they allow other extracurricular groups (per the Federal Equal Access Act of 1984), school principals still commonly take measures to exclude them (American Civil Liberties Union, 2015). Such discriminatory practices must be addressed and replaced with active support for groups and services that make schools safer.
Increasing resources to respond to victims of anti-LGBTQ bullying, particularly to prevent suicide and school dropout. Affirming and culturally responsive services for LGBTQ bullying victims are critical, particularly given the fact that help-seeking often requires LGBTQ students to disclose not only the stigmatized experience of bullying and victimization, but also a stigmatized gender or sexual identity to school counselors or other professionals.
 While I was not "out" in high school - I remained closeted for over two decades after I graduated - I recall some of the bullying and harassment I received.  No student should ever be place in a situation where thoughts of suicide are ever present and suicide seems to be the only means of escape.  I experienced this first hand.  

Trump Cuts to AIDS Treatment Programs Could Cost a Million Lives

There are two groups that the 81% of evangelical Christians who voted for Donald Trump, a/k/a Der Trumpenführer, hate just as fervently as Hispanic immigrants: gays and blacks.  If one looks, beneath the veneer of most supposedly Christian "family values" groups - think Family Research Council or The Family Foundation here in Virginia - there is a strong white supremacist undercurrent. The anti-gay agenda of these groups is in open view for all to see.  Thus, who would be pleased by drastic cuts in AIDS treatment programs?  The Christofascists and "family values" crowd, of course. And in his proposed budget cuts, Trump appears anxious to please this portion of his base.  The consequences in Africa would be horrific and cost a million lives.  These lost lives would be black individuals, so Trump and his evangelical Christian base seemingly believe this is just fine.  A piece in the New York Times looks at this ugly proposal (Note: funding for contraception - another thing opposed by the Christofascists - would also be slashed) .  Here are story highlights:
At least one million people will die in sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere, researchers and advocates said on Tuesday, if funding cuts proposed by the Trump administration to global public health programs are enacted.
The United States currently spends more than $6 billion annually on programs that buy antiretroviral drugs for about 11.5 million people worldwide who are infected with H.I.V., the virus that causes AIDS. The Trump administration has proposed slashing those programs by at least $1.1 billion — nearly a fifth of their current funding, said Jen Kates, a vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation.
“These are lifesaving interventions, and these levels of reductions will significantly curtail service delivery,” Ms. Kates said.
Much of the success of anti-AIDS efforts in Africa has come from a guarantee in many countries that people who test positive for H.I.V. can immediately receive treatment.
With a huge share of Africa’s population reaching sexual maturity in the next four years, the virus could again imperil much of the continent if fewer people are treated, said Brian Honermann, deputy director at amfAR, a foundation that invests in AIDS research.
Much of the United States government’s funding for AIDS treatment and research is funneled through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or Pepfar, which was established in 2004 by President George W. Bush in an effort to save Africa from an epidemic that threatened to kill much of the population of entire countries, like Botswana and Namibia.
President Barack Obama expanded Pepfar, and combined with the Global Fund and other international efforts, the spending is widely credited with arresting the AIDS epidemic.
The Trump administration has also proposed eliminating $524 million in funding for contraceptives and other family planning efforts that mostly benefit women in developing nations.
It is unclear how many lives could be lost as a direct result of the budget cuts, but the Global Fund estimates that every $100 million invested saves about 133,000 lives. An amfAR calculation found a similar effect, suggesting that the administration’s proposed cuts to AIDS programs alone could cost more than one million lives and orphan more than 300,000 children.
“All of these programs have multiplier effects beyond just those immediately served by them,” said J. Stephen Morrison, who directs global health work at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “For the first time ever, after 15 years of steady growth, we’re going to see a radical regression that will have huge effects.”
Even George W. Bush - an individual I continue to loath - supported these AIDS programs.  Sadly, since 2009, the GOP and is allegedly Christian base has become increasingly hideous and callous to the lives of others.   

AG Jeff Sessions Lied About Russia Meetings in Security Clearance Form

Trump and Jeff Sessions
As noted in prior posts, I have been acquainted with former Senator and now U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions since my days in Alabama in the late 1970's and early 1980's. The man was foul and reprehensible then and he is equally so now.   Here's what I said about Sessions back in early February:
While I was still living in Mobile, a 19 year old black man named Michael Donald was murdered in what was the last recorded lynching in the United States. Several Ku Klux Klan (KKK) members beat and killed Michael Donald, and hanged his body from a tree.  Session's office did not prosecute the case, but both men were arrested and convicted.  Subsequently, due to the efforts of Thomas Figures, the Assistant U.S. Attorney in Mobile, FBI agent James Bodman, and Michael Figures, a state senator and civil rights activist, the killers were ultimately arrested over two and a half years after the murder and were prosecuted, with one receiving the death penalty. After dropping the ball on the Donald case, Sessions prosecuted three black community organizers in the Black belt of Alabama, including Martin Luther King Jr.'s former aide Albert Turner, for voter fraud, alleging tampering with 14 absentee ballots. The prosecution stirred charges of selective prosecution of black voter registration. The defendants, known as the Marion Three, were acquitted of all charges by a jury.

In addition to being a racist, Sessions is also a virulent homophobe and, as CNN reports, a liar. Specifically, when Sessions submitted forms for his top security clearance, Sessions lied about every having meet with Russian intelligence and other Russian government officials.  Here are article excerpts:
Attorney General Jeff Sessions did not disclose meetings he had last year with Russian officials when he applied for his security clearance, the Justice Department told CNN Wednesday.
Sessions, who met with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak at least two times last year, didn't note those interactions on the form, which requires him to list "any contact" he or his family had with a "foreign government" or its "representatives" over the past seven years, officials said.
The new information from the Justice Department is the latest example of Sessions failing to disclose contacts he had with Russian officials. He has come under withering criticism from Democrats following revelations that he did not disclose the same contacts with Kislyak during his Senate confirmation hearings earlier this year.
A legal expert who regularly assists officials in filling out the form disagrees with the Justice Department's explanation, suggesting that Sessions should have disclosed the meetings.
"My interpretation is that a member of Congress would still have to reveal the appropriate foreign government contacts notwithstanding it was on official business," said Mark Zaid, a Washington attorney who specializes in national security law.
Zaid added that in a similar circumstance he advised a member of Congress to list all foreign contacts -- including those made during official US government business.
To obtain a security clearance, a federal official is not required to list the meetings if they were part of a foreign conference he or she attended while conducting government business. Sessions' meetings, however, do not appear to be tied to foreign conferences.
The omission comes after problems that Trump adviser Jared Kushner and the President's ex-national security adviser, Michael Flynn, have had on their own security forms. Kushner prematurely submitted his SF-86 form without listing foreign contacts and had to notify the FBI the next day that he was willing to provide the information. Flynn is under investigation for not properly disclosing payments linked to Russia for his foreign trips.
Lawmakers have raised questions about Sessions' meetings with Russian officials while he played a prominent role in the Trump campaign -- meetings that he only disclosed after The Washington Post revealed them. He is under scrutiny as well for his role in the firing of FBI Director James Comey despite his recusal from the Russia investigation.
At his confirmation hearing January 10, Sessions testified that he "did not have communications" with the Russians during the campaign. He made the same assertion in an official questionnaire.
Lawmakers on the House and Senate intelligence committees say it is possible that Sessions could be questioned about those meetings and his role in the campaign -- as well as the circumstances around the Comey firing.
Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat on the judiciary committee, called for Sessions to testify publicly after the news of Sessions' omissions broke. On CNN's "The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer," Blumenthal said that the news requires "intense and immediate investigation."

Sessions, of course, claims to be a  devout Christian - even though lying, refusing to prosecute KKK killers and racial bigotry don't exactly conform to Christ's gospel message. 

Thursday Morning Male Beauty - Pt 1

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Congressional Budget Office - Trumpcare Would Leave 23 Million Without Insurance

Remember all the bloviating by Paul Ryan and a host of other Republicans - including Der Trumpenführer about how the American Health Care Act, a/k/a Trumpcare or Ryancare depending on your inclination to lay blame, would lower costs and expand coverage?  Well, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office scoring released today underscores the magnitude of the lies uttered by these individuals.  The CBO says that Trumpcare would cause 23 million Americans to lose healthcare coverage.  As for the promise of lower premium costs and "quality coverage," that too is a lie.   Older Americans in particular would be severely hard hit as would those with seriosus healthcare issues. Indeed, a senior advisor at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, said that the major takeaway from the CBO score is that Republicans’ talking points simply do not hold up.  That is a polite way of saying that Republicans are lying.  For Republicans, apparently the Commandment against lying has been excised from the Ten Commandments.  Candidly, the only beneficiaries of Trumpcare are the wealthy who would enjoy a huge tax break.  First these excerpts from the New York Times
A bill to dismantle the Affordable Care Act that narrowly passed the House this month would increase the projected number of people without health insurance by 14 million next year and by 23 million in 2026, the Congressional Budget Office said Wednesday. That 10-year figure is slightly less than originally estimated.
It would reduce the federal deficit by $119 billion over a decade, less than the $150 billion in savings projected in late March for an earlier version of the bill. And in states that seek waivers from rules mandating essential health coverage, the new law could make insurance economically out of reach for some sick consumers.
“Premiums would vary significantly according to health status and the types of benefits provided, and less healthy people would face extremely high premiums,” the budget office concluded.
The new forecast of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, Capitol Hill’s official scorekeeper, is another blow to Republican efforts to undo President Barack Obama’s signature domestic achievement. The Senate has already said it will make substantial changes to the measure passed by the House, but even Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, is sounding uncertain about his chances of finding a majority to repeal and replace the health law.
The report provided fresh ammunition for Democrats trying to kill the repeal bill, which they have derided as “Trumpcare.”
Democrats say much of that instability [of the Affordable Health Care Act] stems from Republican efforts to repeal and undermine the Affordable Care Act. The Senate minority leader, Chuck Schumer of New York, harshly criticized House Republicans for voting on their revised repeal measure without an updated analysis from the budget office.
Under the House bill, states could opt out of certain provisions of the health care law, including one that requires insurers to provide a minimum set of health benefits and another that prohibits them from charging higher premiums based on a person’s health status.

Think Progress was even more unkind.  Here are highlights:
 Jacob Leibenluft, senior advisor at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, said that the major takeaway from the CBO score is that Republicans’ talking points don’t hold up. AHCA supporters still claim that the waivers wouldn’t harm anyone who needed essential health benefits or anyone with preexisting conditions, but this bill doesn’t bear that out.
“What the changes of bills have effectively done is resulted in system where sicker and older people are even worse off in terms of how much they would pay and quality of insurance coverage they would get.” Leibenluft said. Those changes would do little to boost overall coverage numbers, either.
“I think what that points to is how deeply unfixable the basic structure is. The problem is they’re pursuing hundreds of billions in tax cuts in a bill that needs to reduce deficit and that requires deep cuts to health coverage. And it’s not possible to undo those cuts to coverage while maintaining that basic structure.”