Saturday, March 17, 2018

More Saturday Morning Male Beauty

Key West 2018 - Day 1 (Cont.) and 2

So far our annual trip to Key West has been great fun even though I spent a good part of Thursday afternoon and Friday morning working on loan documents for a large securitized loan transaction. At least I got to sit and review documents in a tropical paradise at a quiet table away from the activities around the pools at The Equator.   Thursday evening, a group of us from the guesthouse went to Seven Fish for a wonderful dinner (see the image above).  As is always the case, the guests at the Equator are from all over the USA and a number of foreign countries.  Among our group at dinner was a guy from St. Petersburg, Russia and his American husband and a Canadian (included in the price of the stay at The Equator is a daily evening happy hour aimed at encouraging guests to meet each other.)  Several other couples are visiting from Virginia and I may have picked up a new real estate client.  Yesterday, we did the historic homes tour and then had dinner at 951 Prime.  Today we are headed to Latitudes on Sunset Key for lunch with a group of clients/friends.  

For those who have never visited Key West, I encourage you to visit.  This is my 10th trip!  For the husband, it is probably his 30th visit.  Making it even better, the weather has been absolutely perfect.

Reality Check: Young People Are Not the Problem

If one listens to right wing Catholics - e.g., delusional sites like "Church Militant which wants to return to the days of the Spanish Inquisition - the woes of the Church in today's world lies with the younger generations who are accused of moral and intellectual failings.  Any and every excuse and scapegoat is preferable to acknowledging that most of the Catholic Church hierarchy is a moral cesspool.  (A similar denial of reality afflicts the leadership of the Republican Party.)  If right wing Catholics and members of the hierarchy want to understand why younger generations are fleeing Catholicism like passengers fleeing a sinking ship, they need to look in the mirror.  Ditto for the Republican Party.   A piece in the National Catholic Reporter responds to the self-delusion of the Catholic right.  Here are excerpts:
If the recent conference at the University of Notre Dame — where speakers postulated reasons for young people's disassociation from the Catholic Church — represents the approach going into the upcoming Synod of Bishops on young people, we would beg church officials to postpone the gathering.
What we heard was a familiar litany, placing blame for missing young people on:
·        Technology — specifically youths' obsession with smartphones — which supposedly robs them of the contemplative mind and makes them "suckers for irrelevancy."
·        An aversion to "orthodoxy," a term the user brandished with the certainty that his strain of orthodoxy is the immutable version of the truth.
·        The "dumbing down of our faith."
·        The pervasiveness of pornography and relativism, of course.
·        And a new danger — the "bland toleration" of diversity, a curious addition.
According to this analysis, it is the young people, not the church, who are in crisis.
It isn't that healthy young people might be repulsed by the way that church leaders mishandled the sex abuse crisis for decades. Nor is it the money scandals or callousness toward gay and lesbian Catholics or the bishop-driven one-issue politics that has reduced religion and faith to a bumper sticker in the culture wars.
No, they say, the problem lies with young people who have acquired culturally influenced defects.
The cultural critique has value, of course, and the disaffection of young people from all manner of institutional involvement — from the local symphony orchestra to the Rotary Club — needs continued examination to figure out how institutions can be relevant to young people.
Before becoming too convinced that the reason for the disaffection lies with everything and everyone else, church leaders need to seriously examine how their own shortcomings and failures have contributed to young people leaving the church.
It is reasonable to understand that teens and young adults, living in a civil culture that increasingly accepts their LGBT friends and family members, find unacceptable the intolerance and outright discrimination of some Catholic officials and organizations.
It is understandable that a young person would rather not be part of an institution that preaches God's mercy but shows little mercy toward divorced and remarried parents.
Young people, especially young women, who know how their mothers and grandmothers struggled to gain equality in the wider culture, don't care to become involved in an institution where women are marginalized.
Isn't it also reasonable, speaking of vocations to the priesthood, that parents might hesitate to encourage their sons to join a clerical culture that has been depleted not only in numbers, but also in credibility and moral standing?
Unless church leaders at the highest levels thoroughly examine how our community became so distorted — corrupt like a white sepulcher — a synod about attracting younger members will ultimately prove a waste of time and effort.
Perhaps the breathless pursuit of young people in its embarrassing obviousness should be set aside to give church leaders time for deep reflection on what it means to be authentically humble. Replace fanciful answers to questions few are asking with a simple sign, containing one line, in each bishop's office: "You may be the problem."
A similar analysis needs to be undertaken by Republicans: there is a reason a super majority of Millennials vote Democrat.

The Growing Menace of the Trump/Pence Regime

If a fiction writer wrote about a White House like the one now on daily display even as recently as five (5) years ago, everyone would have condemned the narrative as "ridiculous" or "unbelievable."  Now, with each passing day we become increasingly aware that the occupant of the White House operates more or less like a crime boss, dealing with underworld figures, Russian oligarchs, cavorts with porn stars and then threatens them with physical violence while simultaneously trying to silence them with hush money.  Meanwhile, Vladimir Putin - who likely has his own cashe of blackmail materials - smiles on as American prestige and engagement with the world as a super power lurches from one embarrassment to another.  The story line put out by Trump sycophants and Republicans  - whose willingness to prostitute themselves to the morally bankrupt that would shame a tawdry whore - has been that "adults in the room" would rein in Trump's worse excesses.  As we are witnessing, this storyline is a crock of bullshit.   Every decent, honest American - which I am sad to say excludes evangelical Christians who put this human refuse in the White House - should be appalled and gravely worried.  A column in the New York Times looks at the rolling disaster.  Here are excerpts:
Since the beginning of this nightmare administration, we’ve been assured — via well-placed anonymous sources — that a few sober, trustworthy people in the White House were checking Donald Trump’s worst instincts and most erratic whims. A collection of generals, New York finance types and institution-minded Republicans were said to be nobly sacrificing their reputations and serving a disgraceful president for the good of the country. Through strategic leaks they presented themselves as guardians of American democracy rather than collaborators in its undoing.
Last August, after the president said there were “very fine people” among the white supremacist marchers in Charlottesville, Va., senior officials rationalized their continued role in the administration to Mike Allen of Axios. “If they weren’t there, they say, we would have a trade war with China, massive deportations, and a government shutdown to force construction of a Southern wall,” Allen wrote. Since then, we’ve had a government shutdown over immigration, albeit a brief one. A trade war appears imminent. Arrests of undocumented immigrants — particularly those without criminal records — have continued to surge.
Over the past 14 months we’ve also seen monstrous levels of corruption and chaos, a plummeting of America’s standing in the world and the obliteration of a host of democratic norms.
Increasingly, however, the people who were supposed to be the adults in the room aren’t in the room anymore. The former Deputy National Security Adviser Dina Powell left in January. Gary Cohn, head of the National Economic Council, announced his resignation on March 6. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was terminated by tweet on Tuesday. National Security Adviser H. R. McMaster will reportedly be among the next to go, and Trump may soon fire Attorney General Jeff Sessions, possibly as a prelude to shutting down the special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
The self-styled grown-ups are, for the most part, being replaced by lackeys and ideologues. Larry Kudlow, the CNBC pundit Trump has appointed to succeed Cohn, is known for the consistent wrongness of his predictions. Tillerson was a terrible secretary of state, but unlike his chosen successor, the director of the C.I.A., Mike Pompeo, he never trafficked in nut-job Benghazi conspiracy theories or anti-Muslim invective. John Roberts of Fox News reported that McMaster could be replaced by uberhawk John Bolton . . . .
This new stage of unbound Trumpism might make the administration’s first year look stable in comparison. That would partly vindicate the adults’ claims that things would be even messier without them. But it would also mean that by protecting the country from the consequences of an unhinged president, they helped Trump consolidate his power while he learned how to transcend restraints.
Whatever their accomplishments, if from their privileged perches these people saw the president as a dangerous fool in need of babysitting, it’s now time for some of them to say so publicly. . . . Of course, unlike Omarosa Manigault Newman, who confessed horror at her former boss’s presidency on “Celebrity Big Brother,” they haven’t. Their defenders among anti-Trump Republicans say it’s because some of them still have a role to play in staving off potential disaster. One Republican in regular contact with people in the White House told me that Powell and Cohn “need to protect their capacity to reach in and help manage in the event of any national crisis.”
I don’t find this entirely convincing. If these people see the administration as unequipped to handle an emergency, they owe the country a firsthand account of our vulnerability.
[I]f there’s one person who has no excuse for not speaking out, it’s Tillerson, once one of the most powerful private citizens in America, now humbled and defiled by his time in Trump’s orbit. . . . . There’s little doubt that Tillerson holds Trump in contempt and disagrees with large parts of his agenda. After Charlottesville, Tillerson refused to say that the president’s words represented American values.
“Rex is never going to be back in a position where he can have any degree of influence or respect from this president,” my Republican source said. Because of that, the source continued, “Rex is under a moral mandate to do his best to burn it down.” That would mean telling the truth “about how concerned he is about the leadership in the Oval Office, and what underpins those concerns and what he’s seen.”
In this case, patriotism and self-interest point in the same direction. Before entering this administration, Tillerson was a vastly more respected businessman than Trump . . . . Now the first line of his obituary will be about a year of abject failure as the country’s lead diplomat, culminating in a humiliation fit for reality TV.
The only way he will ever change that is by joining those who would bring this despicable presidency down. If Tillerson came out and said that the president is unfit, and perhaps even that venal concerns for private gain have influenced his foreign policy, impeachment wouldn’t begin tomorrow, but Trump’s already narrow public support would shrink further.
Last year, Axios’s Allen and Jim VandeHei half-jokingly called the insiders trying to circumscribe Trump the “Committee to Save America.” Now the committee, having failed, is disbanding. The least they could do is be frank with the rest of us about what we’re up against.

Saturday Morning Male Beauty

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Key West 2018 - Day 1

Sunset Key and Latitudes with Key West in the background.
The husband and I will be up well before day light and headed to Norfolk International Airport to begin our annual trek to Key West.  If all goes well, we will be in Key West by 11:26 am.  We will be staying at The Equator on Fleming Street.  Two friends from Hampton will be traveling down and we will also meet mutual clients of the husband and me who are driving down from Fort Lauderale (they are taking us to Paris and London in September, but more on that later).  We will also see former neighbors who now live in Key West full time as well as two of the husband's clients who winter in the Keys and who will join us for lunch at Latitudes on Sunset Key on Saturday.  Sunday we will do the annual pilgrimage to La Te Da for tea dance.

We have a friend staying at our home and babysitting our dog - we lost our little one on March 9, 2018 - and otherwise holding down the fort.  The only downside of the trip is that I will be working on a large hotel refinance part of the time, but at least I will be doing so in gorgeous surroundings.

Posting will be on vacation mode and I will post thoughts and commentaries as time and activities allow. 

Thursday Morning Male Beauty

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

More Wednesday Male Beauty

Absentee Ballots May Cement Democrat Upset in Pennsylvania

At times I have to think Republicans are living in a bubble or alternate universe - just like the Christofascists who make up a key element of their party's base.  They ignore reliable and mostly fact based news outlets preferring propaganda TV on Fox News and similar outlets that tell them only what they want to hear and play up to their worse prejudices, even fanning hatred at times.  They also continue to ignore the reality that less than 30% of registered voters supported Trump in 2016.  A huge portion of voters stayed home seemingly disliking both main party candidates.  That they stayed home in November, 2016, doesn't mean they will always stay home on election day or that they aren't finding the Trump//Pence regime to be nothing short of repulsive.  Republicans in Congress and down the ballot may be willing to sell their souls for short term gain, but it increasingly appears that the majority of Americans have not thrown away concern for decency and/or a longing for proper behavior by the occupant of the White House.  Thus, at the moment, Conor Lamb, a Democrat remains in the lead in Pennsylvania's 18th District where Trump won by 20 points in 2016.  Lamb's lead may well be cemented by absentee ballots which skew towards Democrat leaning Alleghany County.   A column in the New York Times underscores why Republicans ought to be very worried even if their candidate some how squeaks out a win.  Here are highlights:
It’s hard to imagine a candidate with friendlier looks, a more harmless demeanor and a gentler-sounding surname than Conor Lamb.
It’s hard to imagine a message for the G.O.P. scarier than the one that Lamb, a Democrat, just delivered in a special House election in Pennsylvania’s 18th district, where he led his Republican opponent, Rick Saccone, by less than 1,000 votes in a race that remained too close to call on Wednesday morning.
Lamb declared victory. But even if he somehow ends up losing, Democrats have reason to rejoice and Republicans to tremble. Just 16 months ago, Donald Trump won this district by 20 points, and its promise as the kind of place brimming with the sort of voters who thrill to him was confirmed by his visit there late last week for a rally in support of Saccone. [Trump] The president put what popularity he retains on the line, and flexed his trademark schoolyard humor with the epithet “Lamb the Sham.” This is all that he has to show for it.
Politically and ideologically, Saccone glued himself to Trump, running a campaign whose slogan might as well have been, “I’m With Him.” Outside Republican groups poured millions into the race, some of it for ads that touted the very tax cuts that are supposed to buoy their hopes to hold onto their House majority in the November midterms.
So Lamb’s showing — win, lose or draw — is remarkable, and it’s of a piece with the victory of Doug Jones, a Democrat, in a special election for the U.S. Senate in Alabama and with what happened last November in Virginia, where Democrats prevailed decisively in the gubernatorial race and picked up a large number of seats in the state’s House of Delegates. Clearly, the opposition to Trump is energized and organized. In the upcoming hours and days, you will hear otherwise. Republican leaders will spin like mad. They’ll make the case that what happened in Pennsylvania was peculiar to Pennsylvania and that there are few omens to be seen in it or lessons to be gleaned. They commenced that effort even before the voting in Pennsylvania on Tuesday, spooked by late polls that suggested serious trouble for Saccone, 60. . . . . They bemoaned everything about him down to his mustache. They noted that Lamb, 33, a handsome (and clean-shaven) military veteran, was straight from central casting . . . . “When your message is simply I am for new leadership and cleaning up Washington, and you look like you just walked out of an Orvis catalog, you are going to connect with voters on both sides of the aisle,” wrote Saleno Zito in the Washington Examiner late last week.
[M]any of the Democrats who will vie to unseat Republican incumbents in House races in November won’t be able to follow Lamb’s playbook. To get through their party’s primaries, they’ll have to stake out more progressive ground than he did, and adopt a more combative, fiery tone. That could undercut their chances of replicating his success.
Indeed, Democrats’ euphoria over how he fared on Tuesday will give way to sharp internal tensions and sustained quarreling over which sorts of candidates — soft-spoken or bold, centrist or liberal, eclectic or pure — the party would be wisest, from a pragmatic standpoint, to promote.
But if the Pennsylvania results put Democrats in an awkward position, they leave Republicans in an even worse place. What exactly is their best strategy for the midterms? Sending President Trump into districts that supposedly smile on him isn’t looking like such a hot proposition. The mantra of “tax cuts, tax cuts, tax cuts” is obviously no panacea.
And with each passing week — each passing day — the Trump administration’s turbulence intensifies and the scandals and scandal-ettes pile up. Yes, it’s a long way from now until November, and much about the national mood and the playing field can change. But in that yawning stretch of time, Trump can also render himself and his enablers even less attractive. I have faith.
To me, Democrats need to cease internal squabbles and avoid the bullshit like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders sought to inject into the Democrat primary in Virginia.  Thankfully, their effort failed and a far better candidate won the primary.  The same thing needs to happen in districts across America where the real goal should be to defeat Republicans everywhere possible.  Democrats also need to take a lesson from Ralph Northam and Conor Lamb's playbook:  the ground game and turn out the vote effort means EVERYTHING. 

Are Republicans Already Beginning to Worry About the Judgment of History?

Democrats condemning GOP white washing - will history do likewise?
Yesterday, the Republican members of the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee released a report finding that the committee had found no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives.  The report was released over the protests of Democrat members of the committee and after the Republican majority had refused to interview witnesses and/or review other evidence that might have led to a contrary finding.   Driving home I happened to catch statements of former RNC chair Michael Steele who suggested that history might be far less than kind to these Republicans.  Indeed, in my own mind - and I am a former Republican myself - the House Intelligence Committee Republicans opted to side with possible, if not likely, treason.  A piece in the Washington Post looks at some GOP members of the committee who seem to be trying to cover their despicable behinds.  Here are article excerpts:
The leader of the House Intelligence Committee’s Russia investigation seemed to back off Tuesday from the most surprising finding in the GOP’s report that Russia was not trying to help President Trump, as the panel’s top Democrat trashed the product as a political gift to the White House.
Rep. K. Michael Conaway (R-Tex.) told reporters Tuesday that “it’s clear [Russian officials] were trying to hurt Hillary [Clinton]” by interfering in the 2016 election and that “everybody gets to make up their own mind whether they were trying to hurt Hillary, help Trump, it’s kind of glass half full, glass half empty.”
That equivalence stands in sharp contrast to the conclusions of a 150-page GOP-drafted report Conaway announced to the news media on Monday that concludes that the intelligence community “didn’t meet the standards” of proof necessary to determine that Russia meddled in the 2016 election with the aim of helping Trump.
His comments came after other panel Republicans, including Reps. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) and Thomas J. Rooney (R-Fla.) gave interviews in which they stressed that there was evidence that Russia had tried to damage Clinton’s candidacy.
The report’s findings on Russia’s intentions in interfering is just one area of the document with which Democrats on the panel took issue Tuesday after being presented with it in the morning.
The panel’s ranking Democrat, Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), who called the report “not a serious work,” said the document was proof that Republicans were willing only to “go through the motions of an investigation . . . to give the pretense of trying to find the truth.”
Schiff added that the report was “little more than another Nunes memo in long form,” . . . . Democrats accused Republicans of using the Nunes memo to undermine the Russia investigation — a charge they also applied to Tuesday’s GOP report.
 Schiff and other Democrats on the committee released a 22-page “status update” Tuesday night, listing the various witnesses, firms and documents the panel had declined to subpoena or otherwise examine, along with the reasons that each would be relevant to the investigation. It also lays out areas of inquiry that the minority members say the GOP abandoned by terminating the probe earlier than Democrats would have liked. Democratic committee members pledged to forge ahead with the investigation and eventually issue their own report, although they do not have the ability to subpoena witnesses and other information without the panel chairman’s buy-in.
They reserved special vitriol for the GOP’s decision not to more aggressively pursue uncooperative witnesses such as former White House strategist Stephen K. Bannon, whom Conaway had previously considered holding in contempt.
Schiff said. “This majority doesn’t want to know the answers, and it has set a precedent now that will affect future congresses’ ability to get answers from the executive.”

Like too many Republicans of today, German politicians in the late 1920's ands early 1930's sold their souls to Hitler and the Nazi Party for what they saw as short term advantage.  Long term they sold their souls and have been damned by history and left their descendants  bearing a burden of shame.   I truly do not understand the mindset that predominates within today's Republican Party.