Tuesday, May 30, 2017

France's New President (Unlike Trump) Stands Up to Putin


I have always liked France and the French, perhaps because I am part French due to my grandmother's New Orleans French ancestry, my knowledge of French history and love of Paris, and knowledge that but for France and the French fleet, American forces would likely have been defeated at the battle of Yorktown (where we were yesterday for a wedding in a Revolutionary era B&B).  Now, France's newly elected president, Emmanuel Macron, has added to the list of reasons to admire France.  In his first meeting with Russian dictator, Vladimir Putin, Macron stood up to Putin and even challenged him over the anti-gay pogroms that are ongoing in Chechnya.  Donald Trump, in contrast, has more or less kissed Putin's ass and seemingly acted on Putin's script to damage U.S. - European relations.  A piece in Politico looks at Macron's impressive performance.  Here are highlights:
The official line on the first meeting between Emmanuel Macron and Vladimir Putin was that it was “frank” and “open” and covered Syria, Ukraine and a host of other topics — but the differences between the two leaders were plain to see.
The new French president struck a firm, at times defiant tone. There was even a flash of anger when the subject of election hacking was brought up. He said Russian state-backed media outlets RT and Sputnik “did not behave like press outlets, but behaved like agents of influence and propaganda” which spread “serious falsehoods.” “I will never give in to that,” he said while standing next to Putin.
There were less awkward moments. Speaking to journalists at the Versailles palace, the two leaders said they had agreed to restart talks on Ukraine in the “coming days and weeks” under the so-called Normandy format — referring to four-way consultations between Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany that have been paused.
“No essential topic can be addressed without dialogue with Russia,” Macron said during their joint news conference in the Gallery of Battlesk, a huge gilded hall covered in paintings depicting scenes of war. “It was a frank exchange, extremely direct … We share disagreements, but we also see how to construct a common action.”
While Putin was granted a statesman’s welcome in grand surroundings, at times he looked uncomfortable during his brief appearance with Macron in front of journalists.
The Russian leader, who had not been to France since 2015, offered brief answers to just four questions from some 200 journalists in the room, dismissing one about election meddling as something that “does not exist.”
The only time he went into anything approaching detail was to offer a defense of his decision to meet far-right leader Marine Le Pen during France’s presidential campaign — a meeting he said had been initiated by the National Front leader.
Macron, just back from a G7 meeting in Sicily, wasn’t so shy about speaking out. On Syria, he said “any use of chemical weapons” would prompt an “armed response,” and added that France would “remain vigilant” on human rights issues including abuses of gay people in Chechnya and the treatment of non-governmental organizations in Russia.
Macron’s team wanted Putin to feel more welcome than challenged. They used an exhibit on Peter the Great’s 1717 visit to Versailles as an excuse to invite Putin to France, a move that was both deliberate and designed to speak to Putin’s notions of his own importance.
Macron aides insisted on the need to re-establish a working relationship after a bad patch in Franco-Russia ties under his predecessor François Hollande.
“This is a new departure in our relations,” Russia’s ambassador to Paris, Alexandre Orlov, told the RIA Novosti agency. “It seems that between Macron and Vladimir Vladimirovich [Putin], there are many common points, and they should be able to understand each other well.”
France, unlike America at the moment, has a president who is intelligent, informed, and concerned with more that fanning his own insatiable ego.  Then, of course, there is the issue that unlike Trump, Macron was not put in office thanks to Russian electoral subterfuge and sabotage. 

14 Major Corporations Warn Texas Not to Pass Anti-LGBT Laws


Republicans in Texas like to brag that the state has lead the nation in job creation.  What they leave out is the fact that the vast majority of jobs have been low paying jobs with no benefits.  They also leave out the fact that California, a state that is maligned by wingnuts and Republicans for being "liberal" is far out performing Texas in terms of job creation.  Facts, of course, do not matter the the GOP or their brain dead supporters. Now, having learned nothing from North Carolina's HB2 debacle and the self-inflicted economic harm that arose therefrom, Texas Republicans are hell bent to pass myriad anti-LGBT laws before the legislative session ends.  Indeed, Texas' lunatic governor has threatened to call a special session if the legislation fails to pass before the end of the regular session. Fourteen (14) major corporations have now warned Texas against pursuing the Christofascist inspired bills.  The Dallas Morning News looks at this development.  Here are excerpts:
The CEOs of 14 top companies, including Facebook, Apple, Microsoft and Amazon, have sent a letter to Gov. Greg Abbott urging him not to pass discriminatory legislation.
"As large employers in the state, we are gravely concerned that any such legislation would deeply tarnish Texas' reputation as open and friendly to businesses and families," the CEOs wrote Abbott in a letter dated May 27. "Our ability to attract, recruit and retain top talent, encourage new business relocations, expansions and investment, and maintain our economic competitiveness would all be negatively affected. 
In addition to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Apple CEO Tim Cook, the letter was signed by Amazon CEO Jeff Wilke, IBM Chairman Ginni Rometty, Microsoft Corp. President Brad Smith and Google CEO Sundar Pichai. The leaders of Dell Technologies, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Cisco, Silicon Labs, Celanese Corp., GSD&M, Salesforce and Gearbox Software also signed the letter.
The letter, which has not been made public but was released to The Dallas Morning News, was sent just days before state lawmakers were scheduled to gavel out the 2017 regular legislative session. The year's most controversial and divisive issue has been a Senate proposal to block transgender Texans from using restrooms that match their gender identities. 
Abbott has urged lawmakers to find a compromise on this issue before they're scheduled to go home on Tuesday, but the Republican leaders of the House and Senate have been at loggerheads over the issue for months. 
The disagreement reached a head Friday, with House Speaker Joe Straus refusing to pass legislation he said could harm "some very vulnerable young Texans." Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who heads the Senate, then asked Abbott to make lawmakers stay until they passed a so-called bathroom bill.
Business groups have openly objected to this and other legislation that they say would hurt Texas' lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, but the opposition has done little to thwart Patrick's efforts.
Abbott's and Patrick's self-prostitution to Christian extremists and "family values" hate groups would make a tawdry whore look virtuous.  Unfortunately, neither Abbott nor Patrick is alone in the GOP when it comes to such self-prostitution to hate group extremists and is a main reason why I do all I can to oppose EVERY Republican candidate anywhere in America. Only by electoral defeats and continued harsh economic backlashes to GOP bigotry and misogyny will the GOP do what it has needed to do for decades now: cast out the Christofascists and send them into permanent political exile.

Tuesday Morning Male Beauty - Pt 1


Monday, May 29, 2017

Memorial Day Male Beauty - Pt 2


Trump Is a Catastrophe for U.S.- Europe Relations


A lengthy piece in The Atlantic by a Republican - or perhaps former Republican - is a must read in terms of understanding the damage that Donald Trump has done to American-Europe relations.  The piece offers a good history lesson of U.S. -German relations since the end of World War II - most Trump supporters seemingly know little or no accurate history - and points out that Trump is accomplishing what decades of Soviet and Russian machinations had failed to do (unless, of course, one views Trump as a Russian agent).  The net result will be a reduction in American global power, something that ought to alarm supposed patriots on the political right, even as it puts a smile on the face of Vladimir Putin.   Here are article highlights (read the entire piece and note the statement that things could not have gone better for Russian if Putin had written the script):
Seven years after the end of the Second World War, on the 10th of March 1952, the governments of the United States, the United Kingdom, France, and the newly established Federal Republic of Germany received an astounding note from the Soviet Union.
The Soviet Union offered to withdraw the troops that then occupied eastern Germany and to end its rule over the occupied zone. Germany would be reunited under a constitution that allowed the country freedom to choose its own social system. Germany would even be allowed to rebuild its military, and all Germans except those convicted of war crimes would regain their political rights. In return, the Allied troops in western Germany would also be withdrawn—and reunited Germany would be forbidden to join the new NATO alliance.
Determined to anchor Germany securely in the Western camp of nations, German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer rebuffed the “Stalin note.” West Germany would enter NATO in 1955, build the European Union, and develop as an Atlanticist liberal democracy.  
The Soviets did not quit, however. Again and again through the Cold War they would probe for ways to split Germany from the West, and especially from the United States. . . . But in the end … it didn’t work. The alliance held. The Soviet bid for dominance collapsed, as did the Soviet Union itself. Germany was reunited on Western terms: liberal and Atlanticist from the Moselle to the Oder.
Without the United States, German reunification would never have proceeded so smoothly or rapidly. That assistance is still gratefully remembered in Germany. But gratitude cuts only so much ice in international relations. When the U.S. tried to mobilize the European powers to manage the breakup of Yugoslavia, Germany balked at the risk. But it was the George W. Bush-Gerhard Schroeder split over the Iraq war in 2003 that definitively ended German deference to American leadership.
Since then, Germany has deferred less and less to the United States—and walked more and more its own path. . . . . Whoever was elected president in 2016 would face quite a challenge renewing and rebuilding the German relationship. Trump has instead done further damage.
Since the war, German politics has been founded on two fundamental commitments: to liberalism at home; to Atlanticism abroad. Only a tiny minority question the first, but a much larger minority doubt the second. Like Americans, the Germans remember the Nazi past. Much more than Americans, the Germans remember that British and American bombers burned the cities of Germany to the ground.
Donald Trump is giving permission to U.S.-skeptic elements in Germany.  I offered the following warning in mid-November of last year:
So long as the Germans most hostile to the U.S. alliance espoused various shades of fascism and communism, then the mighty German middle would cling determinedly to the U.S. alliance as a bulwark of stability and liberalism.
The election of Donald Trump to the presidency up-ends German political assumptions about the United States, at a time when Germans are already ready to have those assumptions up-ended. …
Polls show that German confidence in the United States . . . . has collapsed under Trump to a level barely better than Putin’s Russia. Facing elections in the fall—and reassured that she has gained a congenial partner in France’s President Macron—Merkel has served formal notice that she will lead the German wandering away from the American alliance. . . . she said. “We Europeans truly have to take our fate into our own hands.” Notice that she said “Europeans,” not Germans. Notice too that she did not rule out that Europe might rely on the U.S. and U.K. in the future: The door is not closed. But the old order has passed.
Join those words to Trump’s ostentatious refusal to endorse NATO’s famous Article 5, the guarantee of mutual defense, at the NATO summit, and it’s hard to imagine that the messaging of Trump’s first trip could have been more perfect for Vladimir Putin if he’d written the script himself.
There’s an effort now to spin words to present this trip as something less than an utter catastrophe for U.S. interests in Europe.  . . . . Here’s what’s really true: Donald Trump is doing damage to the deepest and most broadly agreed foreign-policy interests of the United States. He is doing so while people associated with his campaign are under suspicion of colluding with Vladimir Putin’s spy agencies to bring him to office.
The situation is both ugly and dangerous. If it’s to be corrected, all Americans—eminent Republicans like Bob Corker above all—must at least correctly name it for what it is.   

Germany: In light of Trump, Europe Must Be Self-Reliant


Two opposing trends are taking place in Europe.  On the one hand, as reported by the Washington Post, in recognition of the reality that under Donald Trump, a/k/a Der Trumpenführer, the United States can no longer be deemed a dependable ally, Europe must move toward being self-reliant, both economically and militarily.  Meanwhile, through Brexit, Britain (which is more inclined to follow GOP style trickle down economics) is withdrawing from the European Union and will be isolating itself and in the view of many harming its economy by exacerbating problems that have made it increasingly less prosperous than France and Germany.   The Brits, like far too many Americans, seemingly embraced racism, bigotry and xenophobia and closed their eyes to the fact that they were voting against their own economic interest.  It may feel satisfying to look down on and denigrate "Those People," but as a piece in the New York Times lays out, the cost for that fleeting sense of self-satisfaction will be painful.   Let's hope the push by German and France for more unity and strength are successful.  Many of the British will likely find themselves twisting on the rope they placed around their own necks.  First highlights from the Post piece:
German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Sunday declared a new chapter in U.S.-European relations after contentious meetings with President Trump last week, saying that Europe “really must take our fate into our own hands.”
It was the toughest review yet of Trump’s trip to Europe, which inflamed tensions rather than healed them after the U.S. president sparred with the leaders of Washington’s closest and oldest allies on trade, defense and climate change.
Merkel, Europe’s de facto leader, told a packed beer hall rally in Munich that the days when her continent could rely on others was “over to a certain extent. This is what I have experienced in the last few days.”
The comments came as Europe watches Britain preparing to leave the European Union and faces antagonism from Washington.
Merkel said that Europe’s move toward self-reliance should be carried out “of course in friendship with the United States of America, in friendship with Great Britain and as good neighbors wherever that works.”
Although relations between Washington and Europe have been strained at times since 1945, before Trump there has rarely been such a strong feeling from European leaders that they must turn away from Washington and prepare to face the world alone.  . . . . Although her message was partly aimed at her electorate, it was a measure of how badly relations have deteriorated with Trump’s United States that hitting Washington might win votes, while working with it could be perilous.
The remarks were a clear repudiation of Trump’s troubled few days with European leaders, even as Merkel held back from mentioning the U.S. president by name. 
“The belief in shared values has been shattered by the Trump administration,” said Stephan Bierling, an expert on transatlantic relations at Germany’s University of Regensburg. “After the inauguration, everyone in Europe was hopeful that Trump would become more moderate and take into account the positions of the G-7 and of NATO. But the opposite has happened.
[M]any European leaders emerged from their meetings with Trump filled with fresh worry. Trump was far more solicitous toward the autocratic king of Saudi Arabia earlier in the week, telling him and other leaders of Muslim-majority countries — many of them not democratically elected — that he was not “here to lecture.” Days later in Brussels he offered a scathing assessment of Washington’s closest allies, saying they were being “unfair” to American taxpayers.
[A]s Merkel positions herself ahead of the election, the message could be the signal of a shift away from the United States, perhaps even one that could outlast Trump’s time in office, and that would weaken U.S. global power over the long term. European leaders are developing plans to deepen military cooperation independently of the United States. They are also reaching out to economic partners in Asia that Trump has spurned. All of those shifts will have consequences that extend years, analysts say.

As noted, meanwhile, Britain continues its path to self-inflicted harm.  Here are excerpts from the piece in the New York Times:
An observer of Britain’s “Brexit” debate would be forgiven for thinking that the country’s economy is one of the European Union’s star performers. Brexit’s advocates rarely pass up an opportunity to claim that the European Union economy is the world’s weak link, and that Britain’s reformed, dynamic and flexible economy has little to risk, and much to gain, from leaving it. The reality is rather different. And Brexit threatens to make matters worse.
Britain’s economic performance relative to the other big economies in Western Europe — including France, Germany, Italy and Spain — does not stand out as impressive, at least once the different prices of goods and services across these countries are factored in. . . . . British economic growth between 2000 and 2015 lagged behind Spain and Germany.
Sustainable increases in living standards require economies to combine land, labor, capital and technology in more efficient ways; Britain has made a poor job of this, helping to explain why Britons’ wages have risen by much less than their French and German counterparts over the last 15 years.
If the country’s overall performance looks mediocre, note that it is also highly skewed by London and the southeast of England. . . . . since 2000, poorer regions of Britain have not been catching up with the richer regions of the European Union. Instead, they’ve been falling further behind.
So, why has the country’s performance been so poor? . . . . Britain is generally perceived as a liberalized economy, and by some measures of labor market performance this is no doubt true: Non-wage labor costs, such as employer contributions, are low and it is easy to lay off workers, which reduces the costs of taking them on in the first place. But a successful labor market requires more than easy hiring and firing; it needs skilled workers, access to housing and good quality infrastructure. By these measures Britain has some real weaknesses.
A significantly higher proportion of British 18- to 24-year-olds suffer from weak literacy and numeracy than those in France, Germany, Italy or Spain. . . . . the country has invested less in roads, railways and air travel than other large European Union economies over the last 20 years.
A Britain outside of the European Union will inevitably be less open to trade with member states, which will curb competition and productivity growth. Tax revenues will fall, further squeezing infrastructure investment and education spending. That’s why, far from liberating Britain to conquer world markets as a buccaneering trading nation, Brexit threatens to make its mediocre economic performance even worse.
In many ways British voters who supported Brexit are like Trump voters: an unfounded belief in exceptionalism, opposition to spending on projects for the common good such as infrastructure and education.  Add in the rank racism and bigotry and the parallels are complete. 

The Pope and the Pagan - A Primer on the Moral Bankruptcy of Trump Voters


The first half of the title to this post comes from Andrew Sullivan's piece in New York Magazine.  While the piece begins with a consideration of the values of the Pope versus Donald Trump, it raises the larger issue of what kind of moral decay - indeed, total moral bankruptcy - has overcome Christians and evangelical Christians in particular that they embraced (and continue to embrace) a man who is the antithesis of Christian values as laid out in the Gospels.   In my view, anyone who claims to be a devout Christian who voted for Trump is a liar and a hypocrite.  And don't blather on about the need to put a "conservative" justice on the Supreme Court as a defense of people who have shown their true colors as modern day Pharisees of the first order.  Trump, as Sullivan brilliantly lays out should be opposed and viewed with horror by real Christians - which of course, excludes the Christifascists who are Christian in name only and who deserve to be treated with contempt by truly moral and decent individuals and a responsible media.  Here are article highlights:
The contrast between a grim-faced pope and the grinning president at the Vatican this past week was not lost on the press or late-night TV. But they missed the mark, it seems to me. They noted merely that the two leaders profoundly disagree on, say, the dignity of immigrants, the sanctity of heterosexual marriage, or the urgency of tackling climate change. While these disagreements exist, they are, it seems to me, merely symptoms of a deeper chasm — the vast, empty, and dark space that lies between Donald Trump and anything resembling Christianity.
[T]here is plenty of scope for disagreement about how to translate a Christian worldview into secular politics, or whether to translate it at all. But I do believe there is a Christian set of core human virtues and values, rooted in what we Catholics still think of as the truth, and that those virtues are rooted in the Gospels. . . . when you think about those virtues, it is very hard to see Donald Trump as anything but a living, breathing, shameless refutation of every single one.
Trump is not an atheist, confident yet humble in the search for a God-free morality. He is not an agnostic, genuinely doubtful as to the meaning of existence but always open to revelation should it arrive. He is not even a wayward Christian, as he sometimes claims to be, beset by doubt and failing to live up to ideals he nonetheless holds. The ideals he holds are, in fact, the antithesis of Christianity — and his life proves it. He is neither religious nor irreligious. He is pre-religious. He is a pagan. He makes much more sense as a character in Game of Thrones, a medieval world bereft of the legacy of Jesus of Nazareth, than as a president of a modern, Western country.
He loves the exercise of domination, where Christianity practices subservience. He thrills to the use of force, while Jesus preached nonviolence, even in the face of overwhelming coercion. He is tribal, where Jesus was resolutely universal. He is a serial fantasist, whereas Jesus came to reveal the Truth. He is proud, where Jesus was humble. He lives off the attention of the crowd, whereas Jesus fled the throngs that followed him. He is unimaginably wealthy, while Jesus preached the virtue of extreme poverty. He despises the weak, whom Jesus always sided with. He lies to gain an advantage, while Jesus told the truth and was executed for it. He loathes the “other,” when Jesus’ radical embrace of the outsider lay at the heart of his teaching.
If Trump were to issue his own set of beatitudes, they would have to be something like this:
Blessed are the winners: for theirs is the kingdom of Earth.
Blessed are the healthy: for they will pay lower premiums.
Blessed are the rich: for they will inherit what’s left of the earth, tax-free.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for oil and coal: for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciless: for they are so, so strong.
Blessed are the liars: for they will get away with it.
Blessed are the war-makers: for they will be called very, very smart.
Blessed are those who support you regardless: for theirs is the Electoral College.
The week Trump visited the Vatican, a transcript of his April 29 phone call with the president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, leaked. In it, Trump tells Duterte that his extrajudicial murders of hundreds suspected of being in the drug trade was “an amazing job.” Trump’s proposed budget, released this week, would eviscerate basic support for the poor in order to reward the already stupendously superrich, and would lay waste to the natural world so that our collective wealth, already greater than any country’s in human history, could be goosed some more. His party’s health-care plan would throw 23 million people off their insurance, even as he pretends it will cover everyone. Every pillar of Trump’s essential character is a cardinal sin for Christians: lust, gluttony, greed, envy, anger, and pride.
I will never understand how more than half of white Catholics could vote for such a man, or how the leadership of the church could be so terribly silent when such a monster stalks the earth.
Then there was his choice to visit Saudi Arabia as his first foreign trip. Of all the countries!  He picked a gruesome, militarized, misogynist dictatorship, that . . . . imports millions of foreign workers in what amounts to near-slavery conditions and that refuses to cooperate in efforts to restrain human trafficking. In a week when extreme Sunni terrorism claimed yet more lives in Manchester, Trump visited the country that was central to spreading Wahhabist ideology and Salafist theology throughout the world in the first place, that funded the precursor to ISIS, that denies minimal freedom of religion, and that gave us the perpetrators of 9/11.

If one voted for Trump, no amount of feign piety at church services will undo the stain.  You had the choice between an admittedly flawed candidate in the form of Hillary Clinton and instead voted for one that embodies evil and who has demonstrated throughout his life that he is the opposite of true Christian values.   One irony to me is that increasingly it is the gays and many non-Christians - even atheists - who now support the Gospel social message far more than the nominal Christians who wear their pretend religiosity on their sleeves.  Needless to say, I will not be going to church again any time soon since those who actually live the valuers of the Gospel are not found within church walls. Meanwhile the number of "Nones" is increasing rapidly. 

Memorial Day Male Beauty - Pt 1


Sunday, May 28, 2017

Sunday Morning Male Beauty - Pt 2


Where Are the Decent Republicans?

Greg Gianforte, Donald Trump, and Steve Bannon
I am not the only one disgusted with the GOP.   The Party is now almost unrecognizable from what it was back in the days of my parents and grandparents - or even when I was a City Committee member and precinct captain. Moreover, I cannot help but wonder where are the decent Republicans?  Why do people vote for elected officials who are increasingly foul.  Is racism, religious zealotry, and greed or combinations thereof truly so strong that what is, in my view, immoral, not acceptable?  Just as disturbing to me are those who, rather than have a serious debate or taking a good look at what they are supporting, try to brush their behavior and my condemnation thereof as mere "political differences."  Perhaps I have not fully escaped my Catholic upbringing, but some things are simply wrong and cannot be waived off as differences in political philosophies.  A piece in Slate asks the question of why decent people support the GOP.  Here are highlights: 
There are decent Republican people. There are Republican voters and politicians and writers who promote principles of public decency. But there aren't enough of those individuals to have prevented the Republican Party, as a national institution, from becoming one that welcomes and encourages violence and white-supremacist racism.
The party's pre-Trump history is obviously not spotless. But 10 and 20 years ago the Republican party was usually forced to marginalize and disavow its openly racist, fascist elements, if only for reasons of political expediency. Not so anymore. Consider:
  The party has almost universally supported the agenda and personality cult of Donald Trump, who once bragged about grabbing women "by the pussy." Trump has been credibly accused of sexual assault by 14 women and has been accused by six others of entering changing rooms in which he knew that teenage girls would be undressed.
   One of the president's senior advisers, Steve Bannon, has reportedly endorsed a book about race war—beloved in the neo-Nazi communitywhich refers to black individuals as "niggers" and "rats." Bannon openly supports white nationalist goals such as reducing the number of Asian American CEOs and was heavily involved in creating the career of white nationalist and Nazi fetishist Milo Yiannopoulos.
   Trump's son, who was a key part of his campaign, repeatedly conducted campaign outreach to open, unapologetic white supremacists. The president himself conducted an exclusive campaign Q&A with a notorious internet forum rife with white supremacist hate speech.
   Congressman Steve King, who has repeatedly endorsed white-supremacist talking points and praised European white nationalist parties, was once considered a nuisance by party leaders but has been embraced and promoted by Trump.
   The Trump administration reportedly recently hired a woman whose most recent job was running an anti-immigration group that was founded by a white supremacist and has long-standing connections to the sewer world of race science.
  Eyewitnesses from Fox News, of all places, say the newest Republican congressman—Montana's Greg Gianforte—body-slammed and punched a reporter who had approached him to ask a question about the American Health Care Act on Wednesday night.
[T]he idea of disgrace is no longer a relevant concept in a Republican Party whose leaders and voters collectively condone and encourage violence against women, violence against the press, and the expression of white-supremacist views. That's not hyperbole, or a cheap shot—it's just reality.