Saturday, June 03, 2017

Ireland Elects Gay Man as Prime Minister

In yet another display of how low the Roman Catholic Church has fallen in Ireland, Leo Varadkar, a 38 year old gay man, was elected prime minister yesterday.  Also of note is that Varadkar's father was from India and married his Irish mother.  CNN looks at this surprising development which represents yet another rebuke to the homophobic Catholic Church which has already been savaged by public reaction to the Church's institutional cover up of sexual abuse of children and youths that went on for many decades, if not centuries.   Here are brief highlights:
Ireland is to get its youngest prime minister, and the first who is openly gay.
Leo Varadkar, the 38-year-old Minister for Social Protection, was elected leader of the ruling Fine Gael party on Friday. He will be confirmed as Taoiseach, or prime minister, when the Irish parliament reconvenes on June 13. The outgoing Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, stepped down as party leader in May, a position he held since 2002. Varadkar was backed by a majority of the Fine Gael's local council members and, crucially, 51 of its 73 parliamentary colleagues, whose votes counted for 65% of the total.  Varadkar said he was "delighted and humbled" at the result. Varadkar, the son of an Indian-born father and Irish mother, became a doctor before first entering Irish parliament at the age of 27.
 In 2015, as Minister of Health, Varadkar came out on Irish national radio, joining a handful of other openly gay politicians in Ireland in support of the Marriage Equality Bill, which allows same sex couples to marry. Varadkar might seem to be an unexpected pick for leader of Ireland -- a country that's still finding its secular European footing after years of church influence over the state.
 Varadkar is expected to officially take up the role as Taoiseach on June 13 after a formal confirmation from parliamentary members.

On Kushner, There’s No Innocent Explanation

Trump apologists - which, of course includes Fox News and almost every Congressional Republican other than perhaps Lindsey Graham and John McCain on some occasions - continue to concoct explanations for Jared Kushner's secret meeting with Russian officials to set up a "back channel for communications" using Russian Russian intelligence and communication facilities.  Anything rather than admit that a Russian agent is now ensconced in the White House.  Disturbingly, many in the news media parrot the latest excuse with little critical analysis of how untrue and preposterous the excuses may be.   A piece in Talking Points Memo looks at the various excuses and rightly calls them out as bull shit and lies.  Here are excerpts:
I’ve written elsewhere about possible ‘innocent explanations’ of the Trump/Russia story, particularly Donald Trump’s role in it. I will leave that all-encompassing question aside for the moment. Here I’m talking about Jared Kushner’s attempt to set up a secure line of communication to Moscow, as well as meeting with the head of that government-backed Russian bank.
In commentary on these revelations we’re hearing a variety of possible explanations. The first was that this was an attempt to hold confidential discussions over Syria. As we’ve discussed, that’s very hard to believe. There are plenty of ways to have those conversations, plenty of ways to get detailed briefings on whats happening in country. None of them involve or require what Kushner was trying to do.
In the last 48 hours, we’ve increasingly heard it suggested that the issue was Kushner’s naïveté or inexperience in government. Perhaps he simply didn’t realize that this would be a problem. Let’s call this the ‘naive Jared’ theory. Like the Syria back channel it simply does not add up. I would say it’s absurd on its face. But if you don’t buy that, remember that Mike Flynn was there too when this was discussed.  . . . We may find out many things about Michael Flynn. But not one of them will be that he lacked the most basic understanding of how the US government or security apparatus worked. So the naïveté argument is ruled out.
There’s one other argument that gets tossed around a lot now and seems widely believed even though I think there’s little to no basis for it. Even if it’s paranoid or weird or suspicious it’s now treated as a given that the Trump Team was wary of being monitored by the Obama administration. But is there really any evidence of that? Not really.  If anything, the Obama team – operating largely at the then-President’s direction – seemed fairly accommodating.
The idea that the Trumpers were afraid of being surveilled by the Obama team is something we’ve now projected back onto the transition because of things that happened months later – specifically, President Trump’s early March claim that Obama had “wire-tapped” him in 2016.
The idea that Kushner and Flynn would use Russian secure communications facilities to set up a secure channel to Moscow is so inexplicable and beyond the pale that it almost beggars the imagination. Critically, this key part of the story has not been disputed by the White House. The only possible explanation of this effort is that Flynn and Kushner (perhaps others, but at least them) wanted to discuss topics that would not only be hidden from Obama administration political appointees but from everyone in the US government – people who would continue to make up the government long after the Obama team was gone.
There’s simply no innocent explanation for that. Not naivete, no fear of Obama snooping, not plausible deniability. The only explanation for that level of secrecy and security, that level of collaboration with an adversary foreign power is that they were doing something wrong, something that had to stay secret. What it was I don’t know. It wasn’t innocent.
I concur with the author.  I think were are talking about possible treason, plain and simple.

The "Disability" Epidemic in Rural Red America

One of the ironies of the white voters who supported Donald Trump is that many seemingly were motivated by animus towards "those people" - read black, Hispanic, immigrant, and to a lesser extent, LGBT - whom they viewed as free loaders who "abused the system."  Yet, rural whites in red states receive more welfare benefits than anyone else.  Largely rural red states depend on federal programs to prop up their economies than do large coastal blue states.  The animus was misdirected and should have been directed at their fellow whites, especially in rural America and the Bible Belt.  Of course, it is always easier to blame someone who looks different or believes differently.  A piece in the Washington Post looks at the epidemic of families in rural and Southern America who are living on disability benefits, sometimes multi-generations at a time.   I do not intend to seem cruel, but the refusal of whites, especially rural whites, to look at their own pathologies is maddening and the height of hypocrisy.  Moreover, such blindness to they systemic abuses in their own communities prevents solutions from being found.  And note the correlations in the article of the disability epidemic with the Bible Belt, the region with the most social pathologies of anywhere in America.  Do we really want these values and world view forced on the rest of the nation?  I think not.  Here are article highlights:
PEMISCOT COUNTY, Mo. — The food was nearly gone and the bills were going unpaid, but they still had their pills, and that was what they thought of as the sky brightened and they awoke, one by one. First came Kathy Strait, 55, who withdrew six pills from a miniature backpack and swallowed them. Then emerged her daughter, Franny Tidwell, 32, who rummaged through 29 bottles of medication atop the refrigerator and brought down her own: oxcarbazepine for bipolar disorder, fluoxetine for depression, an opiate for pain. She next reached for two green bottles of Tenex, a medication for hyperactivity, filled two glasses with water and said, “Come here, boys.”The boys were identical twins William and Dale, 10. They were the fourth generation in this family to receive federal disability checks, and the first to be declared no longer disabled and have them taken away. 
Talk of medications, of diagnoses, of monthly checks that never seem to cover every need — these are the constants in households like this one, composed of multiple generations of people living on disability. Little-studied and largely unreported, such families have become familiar in rural communities reshaped by a decades-long surge that swelled the nation’s disability rolls by millions before declining slightly in 2015 as older beneficiaries aged into retirement benefits, according to interviews with social workers, lawyers, school officials, academics and rural residents.
How to visualize the growth in disability in the United States? One way is to think of a map. Rural communities, where on average 9.1 percent of working-age people are on disability — nearly twice the urban rate and 40 percent higher than the national average — are in a brighter shade than cities. An even brighter hue then spreads from Appalachia into the Deep South and out into Missouri, where rates are higher yet, places economists have called “disability belts.” The brightest color of all can be found in 102 counties, mostly within these belts, where a Washington Post analysis of federal statistics estimates that, at minimum, about 1 in 6 working-age residents draw disability checks.
As the number of working-age Americans receiving disability rose from 7.7 million in 1996 to 13 million in 2015, so did the number of households with multiple family members on disability, climbing from an estimated 525,000 in 2000 to an estimated 850,000 in 2015, according to a Post analysis of census data. The analysis is probably an undercount.
“I’ve been aware of it my whole professional life,” said Michael L. Price, a demographer who retired from the University of Louisville in 2013. “In eastern Kentucky and other rural areas, you’re more likely to have intergenerational households, not just two but three generations. You have grandparents, very young grandparents, living together with grandchildren or in close proximity. And families don’t separate, so it sets it up not only for the next generation, but for two generations, that ‘This is what’s there, this is what you’re dependent on.’ ”
Other experts, however, say the phenomenon has little to do with generational dependence. 
And yet others say it’s about money.
Ruth Horn, director of social services in Buchanan County, Va., which has one of the country’s highest rates of disability, has spent decades working with profoundly poor families. Some parents, she said, don’t encourage their children academically, and even actively discourage them from doing well, because they view disability as a “source of income,” and think failure will help the family receive a check.
“It’s not a hard thing to limit a person,” Horn said, adding: “It’s generations deep.”
Kathy sat with a notepad that said “Live Like Your Life Depends On It” and did the math. Their monthly checks totaled $2,005 — $1,128 less than when the twins received benefits — and bills would consume all of it except $167. There wouldn’t be enough to whittle down her payday loans. Or to settle up with the school for her granddaughter’s cheerleading. Or to pay her lawyer for a divorce from her fourth husband.
[S]he loaded the rest of the family — Franny, William, Kaitlyn and Bella, 4 — into the their dented Ford Taurus and started the engine. Rubbing her right forearm, she drove out into a county of endless farmland, where the poverty rate is more than twice the national figure, life expectancy is seven years shorter than the national average and the disability rate is nearly three times what it is nationally.
Disability characterized her family’s story, too. Kathy’s father, an illiterate laborer, had gone on disability after damaging an arm while working on a manhole. Franny went on it next. Then Kathy, who had dropped out of high school and had her first child at 15, hurt her shoulder working at a gas pump hose factory. Several denials and applications later, and after the twins started collecting benefits, Kathy began receiving disability, too.
It was a Sunday, and soon the family would leave for church, where anyone could get on stage and dance and sing, and this was the week Franny was sure she would marshal enough courage to perform a solo of “Amazing Grace.”
 She saw that gravel road turn into another and another. She saw trailers, dirt-battered and deteriorating. She saw land as flat as it was empty, land that migrant workers traveled hundreds of miles to cultivate, reaping both that year’s watermelon harvest and jobs that few in the community were willing to do.

There is much more, all of it depressing or maddening depending upon one's believe in self-responsibility and accountability.  The latter, of course, are much talked about by conservatives and the "godly folks" but rarely applied to themselves.  I feel bad for the children who sadly have been born into disastrous families.  In the article there is mention of Buchanan County, Virginia.  A family member did a summer medical internship in a rural clinic in that area and came back very disgusted with many of the adults who were defined by bad decisions and irresponsible behavior.  Only the children deserved sympathy and would have been best served to have been removed from their families.  What is frightening is the reality that dysfunctional individuals like those in the article and others in their communities likely put Der Trumpenführer in the White House.  Not content with ruining their own lives, they are now destroying the country.  

Saturday Morning Male Beauty - Pt 1

Friday, June 02, 2017

Friday Morning Male Beauty - Pt 2

Why Evangelical Christians Reject Climate Change

Throughout our lives we face many choices some of which are easy and others of which are difficult - for Fox News viewers, sexual orientation isn't one of them.  Often making decisions or failing to make them comes down to intellectual laziness and/or an unwillingness to face facts and knowledge that cut against childhood indoctrination.  Most of us grow up and come to think for ourselves.  One block of Americans do not: evangelical Christians.  When confronted with inconvenient facts - e.g., the human genome project says that Adam and Eve never existed as historical persons - the reaction of this group is to reject them and to double down in the embrace of ignorance and to cling more desperately to myths and fairy tales.  Anything and anyone that challenges their serious thought free "world view" is deemed an enemy and lashed out at. Gays represent by one group that challenges their childish beliefs and bigotries.  Which brings us to climate change where 72% of evangelicals refuse to believe in it.  A piece in the Washington Post looks at the deliberate embrace of a book authored by uneducated, Bronze Age goat herders over scientific acknowledge.  As the piece notes, climate change is but one of the numerous idiocies that the "godly folk" embrace.  Here are highlights:
The United States will withdraw from the Paris agreement on climate change, President Trump announced Thursday. Environmental scientists say the consequences could be catastrophic for the planet. But for some Trump supporters, there’s no reason to worry.
“As a Christian, I believe that there is a creator in God who is much bigger than us,” Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Mich.) told constituents last week at a town hall in Coldwater, Mich. “And I’m confident that, if there’s a real problem, he can take care of it.”
 Among conservative evangelicals, that is not an unusual opinion. . . . only 28 percent of evangelicals believe human activity is causing climate change. Confidence that God will intervene to prevent people from destroying the world is one of the strongest barriers to gaining conservative evangelical support for environmental pacts like the Paris agreement. Climate change isn’t the first issue where such faith has presented itself. During the Cold War, premillennialist evangelicals, who believe that the Second Coming of Christ is imminent, argued that God wouldn’t allow humanity to destroy itself in a nuclear war. Conservative evangelicals during the Cold War often saw disarmament as a greater threat to the United States than the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Jerry Falwell adopted the slogan “Peace through Strength” in the early 1980s and declared that a nuclear freeze would be “national suicide.” Premillennialists such as televangelist James Robison preached that the Antichrist, who was destined to unite the world under his leadership, would use fear of nuclear weapons and a promise of peace to deceive the world into accepting world government. When scientists began sounding the alarm over climate change in the 1980s, conservative evangelicals, who had been somewhat accepting of environmentalism in the 1970s, became convinced that the Antichrist would use the fear of climate change to seize power. The 1970s environmental movement had enjoyed widespread support as it focused on smaller issues like pollution and litter. In the 1980s, though, scientists revealed problems like the depletion of the ozone layer and global warming, which required worldwide cooperation and significant economic changes to redress.  For Christians like Walberg, globalism is the most dire threat to the United Statesnot rising oceans and more powerful hurricanes. Just as conservative evangelicals opposed arms treaties during the Cold War, they see environmental pacts, like the Paris agreement, as paving the way for a charismatic world leader to form a global government and begin the seven-year Tribulation that precedes the Second Coming of Christ.  Trump’s anti-globalism was part of what made him attractive to conservative evangelicals in last year’s Republican primaries and the general election — and still now as president. Even if Trump’s personal life is an affront to Christian values, his message means that the United States will be standing against the potential forces of the Antichrist.  Trump doesn’t seem to have any firm beliefs, religious or otherwise. He didn’t pull us out of the Paris accord because he truly shares the conservative evangelical beliefs of many of his supporters and advisers. Still, by calling climate change a Chinese hoax, he’s shown a willingness to use similar arguments for his own purposes. We must accept that a number of conservative evangelicals, especially from older generations, will never support significant action on climate change, especially if it means signing a global treaty. Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris agreement has proven that he lacks the flexibility and foresight of Reagan, who dared negotiate with the country he declared an “evil empire.” But we can appeal to moderate and liberal evangelicals with different or milder end-times beliefs, and nonevangelical conservatives can still be convinced to cooperate if persuaded that inaction threatens U.S. standing in the world. We have no choice but to give up on Trump now, but maybe we can hope the party of Reagan will find the moral courage to combat climate change.   
In my view, the author is too optimistic about the Republican Party.  Evangelical Christians are akin to a cancer within the party that has metastasized and rendered the party in a terminal condition.  As for the fears of an Anti-Christ , I would argue that their vote him in the White House.  The only way to deal with evangelicals is to reject them socially and politically.  Their "faith" - i.e., embrace of ignorance - deserves zero respect nor do they.  They constitute a clear and present danger to America. 

Head of Russian Orthodox Church Compares Gay Marriage to Nazism

Kirill and his puppet master, Putin

As I have noted in numerous posts, the Russian Orthodox Church has a centuries old history of being on the wrong side of history, embracing ignorance, and supporting autocrats (often it encouraged reactionary extremism) so as to protect its own wealth and privilege.  Under the Soviet Union, the Church suffered greatly for its past sins and lost power and properties and became a marginalized branch of the Soviet dictatorship.  With Vladimir Putin, the Orthodox Church has soared in power and influence - and, of course, wealth - in exchange for slavish support for Putin and his dictatorship.  The Church is working hard to support Putin and further its own backward looking agenda.  A case in point was the statement by Patriarch Kirill that equated same sex marriage with Nazi terrorism.  Extreme and over the top, yes, but all too in keeping with the Russian Orthodox Church's hideous history.  The Moscow Times looks at this hypocrisy-filled, modern day Pharisee-like statement:   
Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Orthodox compared the adoption of homosexual marriage laws to the adoption of laws in fascist Germany. The Patriarch made the comments in Kyrgyzstan while promoting new translation of his book, according to RIA Novosti.
The Patriarch said “so-called homosexual marriages” were a threat to families and added that “when laws are detached from morality they cease being laws people can accept.” This he said was similar to the laws in Nazi Germany.
This is not the first time Patriarch Kirill has made such comments. In a November 2016 interview with Russia Today the Patriarch made the same comparison to Nazi Germany. In the November interview he also compared homosexual marriage laws to “Soviet Totalitarianism” and said it was a threat to “humanity”.

The last comment is particularly hypocrisy-filled since Kirill's predecessors worked hand in glove with the Soviet regime.  

California Intends to Defy Trump on World Stage

California dwarfs all other American states both in the size of its population (approximately 40 million) and in terms of its economy (which exceeds that of France and Brazil).  Indeed, if it were a separate country, California would currently be in the top six largest economies in the world.  In contrast, think of Wyoming or Montana that have populations and economies smaller than some counties in California (e.g. the City of Sam Jose has a population larger than Montana and a many times over larger economic output).  Combine this with a Democrat/liberal political dominance and forward thinking - in contrast to for example West Virginia or Kentucky that are at war with science and modernity - and California wields the influence of many foreign nations.  Now, with Der Trumpenführer's announcement that he wants to withdraw America from the Paris Climate Change accord, California is poised to wield its muscle.  A piece in Politico looks at this development.  Here are excerpts: 
For the past two years, California Gov. Jerry Brown has been aggressively recruiting other state and local governments to sign onto their own, sub-national climate pact.
But that campaign has taken new urgency under President Donald Trump, who announced Thursday that he’ll withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement. It’s a reflection of the roiling conflict between the president and the nation’s most populous state, but also the ambition of a governor who, after a lifetime in politics, is seizing an unexpected opening on an international stage.
“I’m on the side of the angels,” the former Jesuit seminarian said in an interview before flying on Friday to China, where he will rally support for his climate policies next week. “I’m going to do everything I can, and people are going to join with me.”
Brown, now 79 and in his final term, has long championed environmental causes, promoting conservation and smog-related policies when he was governor before, from 1975 to 1983, and overseeing a dramatic expansion of California’s greenhouse gas reduction standards since returning to office in 2011. Roughly 170 jurisdictions, including Canada and Mexico, have endorsed Brown’s non-binding agreement embracing efforts to limit global temperature rise to below 2 degrees Celsius, the threshold beyond which many scientists predict catastrophic consequences.
But world leaders, not governors, sign international agreements with the force of law, and for years Brown was relegated to a supporting role. Only after the election of Trump, who has called climate change a hoax, did Brown’s climate diplomacy find new prominence as a counterweight to a Republican-held White House.
Following Trump’s Rose Garden announcement Thursday, Brown told reporters, “Today’s announcement is tragic in a fundamental way. But it’s also, I guess, to be expected.”
He called the withdrawal “insane” and said, “California will resist.”
Brown and the governors of New York and Washington said they would establish a coalition of states committed to upholding the Paris accord, while 27 California state senators sent a letter to Brown urging him to convene a climate summit with “like-minded states and subnationals from around the world, to ensure that we continue to charge ahead without forfeiting all of our historic progress to date.”
California has long served as a model on climate change policy, sharing extensive regulatory experience with bureaucrats abroad.
Trump’s disengagement from international climate politics has left open a political opportunity for Brown, with climate-minded politicians abroad running into resistance in Washington seeking other partnerships in the United States. Even if Trump had remained in the Paris accord, his rejection of mainstream climate science was broadly seen as increasing the significance of climate change efforts at the local and state level, with California at the forefront. Brown, who ran unsuccessfully for president three times but is now seeking no higher office, has little to lose. His public approval rating remains high in a heavily Democratic state that contributed significantly to Trump’s loss of the popular vote last year, and the state legislature has pushed forward with a raft of climate legislation to gird against Trump administration policies.
Earlier this week, the state Senate passed one bill requiring utilities to obtain 100 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2045 and another folding Obama-era water, air and engendered species standards into state law, preserving them in California regardless of reversals at the federal level.
California exemplifies why it is crucial that Democrats be elected to the governorships of as many states as possible, including Virginia this November.   They are critical to the resistance against the foul policies of Der Trumpenführer and the Vichy Republicans in Congress. 

Friday Morning Male Beauty - Pt 1

Thursday, June 01, 2017

The Winners From Trump's Foreign Policy Shifts: Russia and China

To whom does Donald Trump/the Trump Organization owe his/its financial survival? Russia and its oligarchs and the Bank of China, a entity controlled by the Chinese government.  The Russian oligarchs and their laundering of dirty money have kept Trump properties going, and the Bank of China is one of Trump's main financiers (along with Deutche Bank).  Thus, it is no surprise that when one looks at the fallout from Der Trumpenführer's foreign policy actions over the last week, the big winners are Russia and China.  Russia is seeing the NATO alliance split - something Russia has worked at since 1945 - and Trump is likely to lift sanctions and give back Russia's seized spying facilities near Washington, DC. As for China, Trump's trashing o other NATO countries has opened the door for China to pursue trade advantages in Europe, and now, with Trump's withdrawal of America from the Paris Climate accord is positioning China for new potential global leadership.  All so that ignorance embracing Fox News viewers and evangelical Christians can feel self-satisfied and pretend that they are not the worse form of "white trash."  A piece in the Washington Post looks at how China benefits from Trump's - in my view - borderline traitorous actions.  Here are excerpts:
In ditching the Paris accord on climate change, President Trump has cemented his reputation as the international disrupter in chief with the latest in a string of decisions that foreign policy analysts believe could have profound consequences for U.S. global leadership.
The decision to exit the Paris agreement is sure to anger many of the almost 200 nations that signed the commitment to reduce emissions. In one sign of shifting alliances, the European Union and China were expected to issue a joint statement Friday vowing to take a leading role in stemming climate change. China in particular is expected to fill any leadership vacuum created by the U.S. retreat, both in climate change and trade.
 “Having pulled out of the Paris accord, after sowing doubt at NATO and killing the TPP, President Trump is on the way to ending the U.S.-led international order,” said Cliff Kupchan, chairman of the Eurasia Group, a firm that assesses political risks. “I think we’re heading toward a Hobbesian, each-on-his-own world.”
Many in the foreign policy establishment believe the pullbacks have undermined U.S. influence and credibility.
“Other countries will be less willing to engage with us,” said David Victor, director of the Laboratory on International Law and Regulation at the University of California at San Diego. “It creates a vacuum others will try to fill. It will make it harder for the United States to advance its interests.”
Now, China is positioned to move into the void left by the United States. At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, this year, Chinese President Xi Jinping gave a speech extolling the virtues of globalized trade as the United States appeared to be turning inward. The U.S. abandonment of the Paris accord represents another opportunity. On Thursday, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang stood beside Merkel in Berlin and declared the fight against climate change a “global consensus” and an “international responsibility.” He noted that China was one of the first countries to ratify the Paris accord.
“Xi Jinping is sitting in Beijing and can’t believe what’s happening to him,” said Ivo Daalder, a former U.S. representative to NATO and now president of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. “The United States’ retreat from leadership means China can move in America’s wake. We’re seeing the possibility of a shift in global leadership, away from Washington and the United States toward Beijing and China.”

A column by a Nobel prize winning economist in the New York Times likewise trashes Trump's actions.  Here are highlights:
As Donald Trump does his best to destroy the world’s hopes of reining in climate change, let’s be clear about one thing: This has nothing to do with serving America’s national interest. The U.S. economy, in particular, would do just fine under the Paris accord. This isn’t about nationalism; mainly, it’s about sheer spite.
About the economics: At this point, I think, we have a pretty good idea of what a low-emissions economy would look like. I’m sure that energy experts will disagree on the details, but the broad outline isn’t hard to describe.
Clearly, it would be an economy running on electricity — electric cars, electric heat, with internal combustion engines rare. The bulk of that electricity would, in turn, come from nonpolluting sources: wind, solar and, yes, probably nuclear.
Meanwhile, there would be compensating benefits. Notably, the adverse health effects of air pollution would be greatly reduced, and it’s quite possible that lower health care costs would all by themselves make up for the costs of energy transition, even ignoring the whole saving-civilization-from-catastrophic-climate-change thing. The point is that while tackling climate change in the way envisaged by the Paris accord used to look like a hard engineering and economic problem, these days it looks fairly easy. We have almost all the technology we need, and can be quite confident of developing the rest. Obviously the transition to a low-emissions economy, the phasing out of fossil fuels, would take time, but that would be O.K. as long as the path was clear.
Why, then, are so many people on the right determined to block climate action, and even trying to sabotage the progress we’ve been making on new energy sources?
Don’t tell me that they’re honestly worried about the inherent uncertainty of climate projections.
Don’t tell me that it’s about coal miners. Anyone who really cared about those miners would be crusading to protect their health, disability and pension benefits, and trying to provide alternative employment opportunities — not pretending that environmental irresponsibility will somehow bring back jobs lost to strip mining and mountaintop removal. Pay any attention to modern right-wing discourse — including op-ed articles by top Trump officials — and you find deep hostility to any notion that some problems require collective action beyond shooting people and blowing things up.
Beyond this, much of today’s right seems driven above all by animus toward liberals rather than specific issues. If liberals are for it, they’re against it. If liberals hate it, it’s good. Add to this the anti-intellectualism of the G.O.P. base, for whom scientific consensus on an issue is a minus, not a plus, with extra bonus points for undermining anything associated with President Barack Obama.
And if all this sounds too petty and vindictive to be the basis for momentous policy decisions, consider the character of the man in the White House. 

It will be divine justice if China rises to the challenge and takes over American leadership on international trade and climate change.  One can only hope that the cretins and morons that Trump is pleasing by such harmful actions suffer immeasurably as the consequences come home to roost.  Meanwhile, take a good look at Britain which in a similar form of wrongheaded xenophobia has marginalized itself through its Brexit vote to a point where no one seemingly cares what happens there.  America is marching down a similar road.  I hope people remember those responsible for this diminishing of America.  

Thursday Morning Male Beauty - Pt 2

click image to enlarge

Good Versus Evil: The Battlefield for American Values

I will upset Trump voters, but instead of "protecting American values" they have actively damaged America's better values.  Indeed, every day that they continue to support Der Trumpenführer, they continue the assault on decency and morality.  How voting for a racist, narcissistic, pathological liar who thinks sexually molesting women is "locker room talk" could ever be an act of supporting American values is, to me, utterly baffling.  Trump embodies the very worst of American society and is an affront to morality and decency.  He also embodies  the larger battle for American values.  On the one side stand those who believe in the nation's founding Enlightenment values and on the other stand the racists, white supremacists, xenophobes, Christofascists (including the 81% of evangelicals who voted for Trump) and general misogynists.  As an op-ed in the New York Times argues, we saw these battle lines drown last week on a light rail train in Portland, Oregon.  Here are column excerpts:
America may seem leaderless, with nastiness and bullying ascendant, but the best of our nation materialized during a moral crisis on a commuter train in Portland, Ore.
A white man riding on that train on Friday began screaming anti-Muslim insults at a black 16-year-old girl and her 17-year-old Muslim friend wearing a hijab. One can imagine people pretending not to hear and staring fiercely down at their phones; instead, three brave passengers stepped forward to protect the girls.
The three were as different as could be. One was a 23-year-old recent Reed College graduate who had a mane of long hair and was working as a consultant. Another was a 53-year-old Army veteran with the trimmest of haircuts and a record of service in Iraq and Afghanistan. The third was a 21-year-old poet and Portland State University student on his way to a job at a pizzeria. What united the three was decency.
When they intervened, the man harassing the girls pulled a knife and slashed the three men before fleeing. Rick Best, the veteran, died at the scene. Taliesin Namkai-Meche, the recent Reed graduate, was conscious as he waited for an ambulance. A good Samaritan took off her shirt to cover him; she recounted that some of his last words were: “I want everybody on the train to know, I love them.” He died soon after arriving at the hospital.
Another passer-by stanched the bleeding of the student poet, Micah Fletcher, and called his mother to tell her to go to the hospital — but played down the injuries to avoid terrifying her. Fletcher underwent two hours of surgery to remove bone fragments from his throat and is recovering.
Police arrested Jeremy Christian, 35, a white supremacist, and charged him with the murders. The train attack doesn’t fit America’s internal narrative of terrorism, but it’s a reminder that terrorism takes many forms. Last year Americans were less likely to be killed by a Muslim terrorist (odds of one in six million) than for being Muslim (odds of one in one million), according to Charles Kurzman of the University of North Carolina.
In tragedy, we can sometimes find inspiration. In that train car, we saw that courage and leadership are alive — if not always in Washington, then among ordinary Americans converging from varied backgrounds on a commuter train, standing together against a threat to our shared humanity.
Trump’s overseas trip marked an abdication of American leadership, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel concluding that Europe can no longer rely on the United States. The Trump budget was intellectually dishonest and morally repugnant, with cuts in global AIDS funding alone that may cost one million lives. Today’s White House seems to stand for nothing loftier than crony capitalism and the scapegoating of refugees, Muslims and immigrants. To me, Trump “values” are primarily narcissism, nepotism and nihilism. And this is infectious: Cass Sunstein of Harvard cites psychology research indicating that Trump has made it more acceptable for Americans to embrace xenophobia. I wrote last year that “Donald Trump is making America meaner,” prompting bigotry in rural Oregon where I grew up, and around the country. . . . . when a president incites hatred, civilization winces.
If all that is one thread of America, another is represented by those three men who stepped forward on that train. It’s also represented by the good Samaritans who helped them when they were stabbed, by the countless people who joined vigils to honor the victims and who donated more than $1 million in a few days for the families of those killed and for the survivor.
What the three men in Oregon understood, but the White House doesn’t, is that in a healthy society, Islamophobia doesn’t disparage just Muslims, racism doesn’t demean blacks alone, misogyny hurts more than women, xenophobia insults more than immigrants. Rather, we are all diminished, so we all have a stake in confronting bigotry. Best, the veteran, had three teenage children and a 12-year-old daughter, and I hope his kids understand that their dad died challenging a venomous intolerance that threatens our social fabric. He fell on the battlefield of American values. He deserves the chance to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
One thing I’ve learned in my reporting career is that side by side with the worst of humanity, you find the best. The test for all of us is whether we can similarly respond to hatred and nihilism with courage and, in the dying words of Namkai-Meche, with “love.”
I do not believe that it is overly dramatic to describe this battle as one of good versus evil.  Trump and his racist, bigoted, xenophobic supporters - as well as Republicans who seek to destroy the social safety net - represent evil.  They must be defeated if America is to remain a decent and moral country. Working to stop this people tells much more about one's morality than does sitting in a church pew each Sunday.  Failing to act becomes an act of complicity. 

Congress/FBI Investigating Another Possible Undisclosed Sessions-Kislyak Meeting

Prior posts have made it very clear that I view Attorney General Jeff Sessions as a miserable excuse for a human being.  My feelings date all the way back to my days in Mobile, Alabama when Sessions refused to prosecute KKK members who lynched a young black man in Mobile.  Combine  Sessions' flaming racism with his homophobia and apparent constant lying to Congress and it ought to be obvious to anyone other than a white supremacist and/or Christofascists - my "friends" who voted for Trump and support Sessions can pick which of these two best describes them - that Sessions is unfit for the office of Attorney General of the United States of America.  Now, on top of all of this, it appears that Sessions may have had another secret meetings with the Russian ambassador - a meeting that he never disclosed to Congress even in his "corrected" disclosure.  Here are highlights from CNN:
Congressional investigators are examining whether Attorney General Jeff Sessions had an additional private meeting with Russia's ambassador during the presidential campaign, according to Republican and Democratic Hill sources and intelligence officials briefed on the investigation.
Investigators on the Hill are requesting additional information, including schedules from Sessions, a source with knowledge tells CNN. They are focusing on whether such a meeting took place April 27, 2016, at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, DC, where then-candidate Donald Trump was delivering his first major foreign policy address. Prior to the speech, then-Sen. Sessions and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak attended a small VIP reception with organizers, diplomats and others. In addition to congressional investigators, the FBI is seeking to determine the extent of interactions the Trump campaign team may have had with Russia's ambassador during the event as part of its broader counterintelligence investigation of Russian interference in the election. The FBI is looking into whether there was an additional private meeting at the Mayflower the same day, sources said.
 Sessions has previously failed to disclose meetings with Russian officials. During his confirmation hearing on January 10, Sessions testified that he "did not have any communications with the Russians" during the campaign. He also said in a written statement submitted to the Senate judiciary committee that he was not in contact with anyone linked to the Russian government during the election. Those answers became problematic for Sessions when reports emerged in March that he did have two meetings with Kislyak during the campaign -- one at the Republican National Convention in July and one in his Senate office in September.
 [W]hen Sessions updated his sworn testimony to the Senate judiciary committee, he acknowledged the two meetings with Kislyak but did not mention any encounter at the Mayflower Hotel. Russia was already trying to help Trump before the Mayflower Hotel speech, according to a US intelligence community assessment released in January. The report concluded that by March 2016, Kremlin-backed news outlets began supporting Trump and Russian military intelligence had kicked off its election-related cyber operations.

Sessions needs to resign immediately.  Prosecution for perjury and contempt of Congress are also in order.

Thursday Morning Male Beauty - Pt 1

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Why is the America So Committed to Terror Financier Saudi Arabia?

I have lamented many times the United States' continued cow towing to Saudi Arabia despite the documented facts that (1) the vast majority of the 9-11 hijackers were Saudi nationals, (ii) Saudi Arabia is a principal sponsor of spreading Wahhabism and Islamic extremism across the globe, and (iii) Saudi Arabia is one of the worse human rights abusers on the planet.  The Saudis simply put are NOT America's friends or even receptive to western values - or, I would argue, human decency.  Yet America prostitutes itself to this false ally and extremist nation.  A piece in History News Network seeks to answer this question.  The answer to a large extent boils down to one word: oil.   All other considerations more or less are thrown on the trash heap.  Sadly, the Saudis have played America like a fine violin, much to America's and western civilization's loss.  Here are article highlights:
Every year or so the oil-rich Arab kingdom of Saudi Arabia makes American headlines for generally the same reasons. American leaders have made some kind of weapons deal with the Saudi royal family, have praised the monarchy for its commitment to fighting terrorism, or have met with Saudi oil executives to assure that crude and petroleum are flowing unhindered in Asia and Europe. Along with these news items are widespread condemnations of the U.S.-Saudi relationship and reminders that the ultra-fundamentalist Saudi regime is responsible for some of the most outrageous human rights violations on the planet.
American presidents speak frequently of the need to stand up for democracy and religious freedom in the face of radical Islamist tyranny, so why do they insist on backing a dictatorship that will not even allow for Christian churches to be built on Saudi soil? The answer to the question is both simple and complex. The simple answer is the most obvious, and is the primary reason Saudi Arabia is the wealthy powerhouse that it is – oil.
But the more complex answer lies in the relationship between the two countries throughout four distinct periods of conflict – the Second World War, the Cold War, the 1991 Gulf War, and the War on Terror. The Saudis managed to placate the U.S. in each of these four global crises, granting oil concessions and military cooperation while pursuing a regional foreign policy often at odds with American goals and implementing increasingly draconian policies at home. The U.S. has viewed the alliance as valuable enough to overlook Saudi Arabia’s anti-Israel foreign policy and its espousal of Islamic fundamentalist ideology.
When the U.S. entered the Second World War, it did not view Saudi Arabia as an indispensable partner. The kingdom, barely a decade old, had a better relationship with the British, who still had a sizable amount of influence in the Middle East at the time. But the U.S.-Saudi relationship changed significantly over the course of the war as the Americans came to view Saudi oil as, in the words of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Secretary of State Cordell Hull, “one or the world’s greatest prizes.”  . . . . access to oil came to define the U.S.-Saudi relationship during World War 2, and would continue to do so.
During the Cold War, the U.S.-Saudi relationship strengthened, as both countries viewed the Soviet Union as a threat to Persian Gulf oil.  . . . . By the end of Reagan’s presidency, the Middle East had descended into serious sectarian warfare and the U.S. was heavily involved in the region.
But the relationship between Washington and Riyadh survived. In fact, it enjoyed perhaps its most fruitful period in the early 1990s, when Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s army invaded Saudi neighbor and ally Kuwait and threatened to control a large percentage of the Gulf’s oil. The Saudi monarchy made a major concession, allowing the U.S. to station hundreds of thousands of troops on its soil in order to fight off the Iraqi advance. The effort was successful, but the presence of American troops on Saudi soil (considered holy land) enraged fundamentalist Muslims throughout the region (including Saudi jihadist Osama bin Laden) and forced the regime to confront what had been lurking in the darkest corners of the country for a couple of decades – Sunni radicalism.
When Osama bin Laden sent his al-Qaeda fanatics to attack the World Trade Center and Pentagon on September 11, 2001, the U.S.-Saudi relationship faced its most serious challenge to date. The fact that a majority of the hijackers were Saudi posed a serious problem for the alliance, and raised the question of just how much of a role the royal family played in financing the atrocities. This question has still not been answered to the satisfaction of most Americans, and the Saudi regime does little to assuage suspicions that it fully supports radical Islamist ideology. Despite all of the setbacks and the questions, however, the U.S. and Saudi Arabia remain steadfast partners. Why? Because the Saudis once again have proven to the U.S. that they are willing to support it in its major foreign policy objective while guaranteeing a steady flow of oil to large swaths of Asia and Europe. Though the Saudis enforce a strict brand of sharia law at home, frequently behead or imprison those who break this law, and espouse an extreme Islamist ideology, they have remained a loyal ally in the American fight against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. And, though the U.S. relies less on Mideast oil than it once did, it recognizes that a stable and oil-producing Saudi Arabia is vital to the stability of the region.
 All of these factors considered, it is crucial that American leaders ask a couple of big questions. First, is maintaining the U.S.-Saudi relationship in its current condition worth all of the other headaches that accompany it?
 And second, if the relationship is worth preserving in its current state, is it worth getting further involved in Saudi Arabia’s proxy war against Iran? Iran is ruled by an equally rigid Islamic dictatorship that has financed terror abroad, but its citizens have generally expressed more of an openness to making amends with the Americans after years of hostility.
 It is uncertain as to how well this strategy will pay off, but history has proven that one thing remains certain – the Saudis will continue to enjoy a significant amount of American support as long as they supply oil to American allies and assist the U.S. in at least one major foreign policy objective.

Wednesday Morning Male Beauty - Pt 2

Is America Headed to Being a Middle East Style Autocracy?

Despite its many misdeeds throughout its history - inconvenient facts ignored by the political right wing - and missteps, America has largely been viewed as a defender of democracy and western values.  Not so much anymore with Der Trumpenführer in the White House.  Crude, obnoxious behavior is increasingly the norm flowing from the White House and decades of foreign relations building is being torn asunder  America's version of Odoacer who over threw the western Roman Empire.  All of this may play well for the moment among rural and red state Trump supporters, but the time will come when America needs the allies that Trump is alienating. The reckoning could be far worse than the ignorance embracing, xenophobic Trumpians imagine.  Indeed, an op-ed in the New York Times suggests that America is headed toward rule akin to that of a Middle East autocracy, aided by the complicity of what I refer to as the Vichy Republicans (Fox News viewers will need to look up the term Vichy).  Here are column highlights:
President Trump’s trip to Europe was truly historic.
He left our most important allies there so uncertain about America’s commitment to their security from Russia and to shared values on trade and climate change that German leader Angela Merkel was prompted to tell her countrymen that Europe’s days of relying on America are “over to a certain extent,” and therefore Germany and its European allies “really must take our fate into our own hands.”
No U.S. president before had ever put a crack in the Atlantic alliance on his inaugural tour. Historic.
“Who is America today?” is the first question I’ve been asked on each stop through New Zealand, Australia and South Korea. My answer: We’re not the U.S.A. anymore. We’re the new U.A.E.: the United American Emirate.
We have an emir. His name is Donald. We have a crown prince. His name is Jared. We have a crown princess. Her name is Ivanka. We have a consultative council (Congress) that rubber-stamps whatever the emir wants. And like any good monarchy, our ruling family sees no conflict of interest between its personal businesses and those of the state.
So any lingering Kennedyesque thoughts about us should be banished, I explained. Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay no price, bear no burden, meet no hardship, support no friend, oppose no foe to assure the success of liberty — unless we’re paid in advance. And we take cash, checks, gold, Visa, American Express, Bitcoin and memberships in Mar-a-Lago.
The Trump doctrine is very simple: There are just four threats in the world: terrorists who will kill us, immigrants who will rape us or take our jobs, importers and exporters who will take our industries — and North Korea. Threats to democracy, free trade, the environment and human rights are no longer on our menu. Therefore, no matter how unsavory you are as a foreign leader, you can be the United American Emirate’s best friend if you:
1.) Pay us by buying our weapons. . . .
2.) Pay us in higher defense spending for NATO — not to deter Russia, which is using cyberwarfare to disrupt every democratic election it can, but to deter “terrorism,” something that tanks and planes are useless against.3.) Pay us in trade concessions. And it doesn’t matter how lame those concessions are. All that matters is that Emir Trump can claim “concessions.”4.) Pay us by freeing any U.S. citizen you arrested on trumped-up charges to annoy Barack Obama and to intimidate human rights activists.5.) Pay us by grossly flattering our emir about how much of an improvement he is over Obama.6.) Be Russia, and you pay nothing.
[I]f you do any one of these six things the United American Emirate’s commitment to you — and it’s ironclad — is that you can do anything you want “out back.” You can deprive your people of whatever human rights you like out back. You can be as corrupt as you want out back. You can steal as many elections as you like out back. Just keep the arms purchases coming, the NATO dues rising, the phony trade concessions flowing and the compliments gushing — or be Vladimir Putin — and anything goes.
It took us decades to build the Atlantic alliance and it has brought us so many tangible and intangible benefits in the form of security, stability, growth and friendships. Trump could actually break it, not just crack it. 
I would add that like Middle Eastern autocrats, Trump similarly seems only too happy to allow religious extremists to work to trash the First Amendment and its guaranty of religious freedom for all, not just Christofascists.  America's image abroad is being destroyed.