Saturday, April 22, 2017

More Saturday Male Beauty

Russia Tried to Use Trump Advisers to Infiltrate Campaign

Try as he might, Der  Trumpenführer cannot escape Russiagate.  Yesterday, CNN reported that intelligence sources indicated that Russia tried to use Trump's advisers to infiltrate the Trump/Pence campaign.   Some, of course believe that the Russian efforts were successful.  Most glaring in the CNN story is the following: "Intelligence analysts and FBI investigators who analyzed various strands of intelligence from human sources to electronic and financial records have found signs of possible collusion between the campaign and Russian officials."   Personally, I suspect that collusion did take place.  It would have been totally in keeping with Trump's history of ignoring laws he found inconvenient and involvement with Mafia and Russian mob figures to further his own interests. We are not talking about a man with ethical and moral standards.  Here are highlights from CNN:
The FBI gathered intelligence last summer that suggests Russian operatives tried to use Trump advisers, including Carter Page, to infiltrate the Trump campaign, according to US officials.
The new information adds to the emerging picture of how the Russians tried to influence the 2016 election, not only through email hacks and propaganda but also by trying to infiltrate the Trump orbit. The intelligence led to an investigation into the coordination of Trump's campaign associates and the Russians.
These officials made clear they don't know whether Page was aware the Russians may have been using him. Because of the way Russian spy services operate, Page could have unknowingly talked with Russian agents.
Page disputes the idea he has ever collected intelligence for the Russians, saying he helped the US intelligence community. "My assumption throughout the last 26 years I've been going there has always been that any Russian person might share information with the Russian government ... as I have similarly done with the CIA, the FBI and other government agencies in the past."
But the intelligence suggests Russia tried to infiltrate the inner-workings of the Trump campaign by using backdoor channels to communicate with people in the Trump orbit, US officials say.
Page is one of several Trump advisers US and European intelligence found to be in contact with Russian officials and other Russians known to Western intelligence during the campaign, according to multiple US officials.  The scope and frequency of those contacts raised the interest of US intelligence agencies.
Carter Page's speech critical of US policy against Russia in July 2016 at a prominent Moscow university drew the attention of the FBI and raised concerns he had been compromised by Russian intelligence, according to US officials. They also feared that Russian operatives maintained contact with him both in the United States and Russia, US officials say.
His conversations with suspected Russian operatives are being examined as part of a large intelligence-gathering operation by the FBI and other US agencies that was set up to probe Russia's interference in the election. The officials would not say what the conversations were about.
The FBI had Page on their radar for at least four years, according to court documents and US officials.
The bureau also knew about Page from its 2013 investigation into a Russian spy ring in New York. One of the spies was taped saying he tried to recruit Page, and Page admitted meeting him. But Page says he didn't share anything sensitive and didn't know he was talking to a spy.
He also traveled to Russia frequently and interacted with officials that the FBI was concerned were acting on behalf of the government.  His trip to Russia in July 2016 revived the FBI's interest, when he delivered a lecture at a graduation ceremony for the New Economic School. The university opened after the fall of the Soviet Union and is ranked as one of the best universities for economics in Russia. . . . . Page's lecture sounded different than what would be expected from most Americans. He parroted Kremlin talking points by chastising the West for prolonging "Cold War tendencies."
Shortly after Page returned to the US, he and other Trump advisers headed to Cleveland for the Republican National Convention. On the sidelines of a convention-related event, Page and other Trump advisers, including JD Gordon and Jeff Sessions, met with Russian ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak.
Two months after Page's trip, the FBI sought and received a warrant from the secret court that oversees the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to monitor Page's communications.
When he returned to Moscow in December 2016, after Trump won the election, Russian state-run media widely covered and promoted his trip, including RT and Sputnik, which have been identified by the US intelligence community as tools for the Kremlin's propaganda. . . . Not only did Russian state-run media cover the trip, but a prominent government-run think tank involved in election-meddling efforts put out a press release heralding Page's visit.
The FBI and other US agencies have been combing through information obtained through that FISA as part of its ongoing investigation into the Trump campaign's links to Russia.
Intelligence analysts and FBI investigators who analyzed various strands of intelligence from human sources to electronic and financial records have found signs of possible collusion between the campaign and Russian officials. But there is not enough evidence to show that crimes were committed, US officials say.
Part of the problem for investigators has been that they lost their opportunity to conduct the investigation in secret after several leaks last year revealed FBI was looking at people close to the Trump campaign. After those reports, people that the US was monitoring changed their behavior, which made it more difficult for US officials to monitor them. 
Let's hope the investigations dig deeper and document crimes and collusion.  Treason, in short.  Let's also hope it implicates Pence and perhaps other high ranking Republicans.

Christian Extremists and Islamic Extremists - There is Little Difference

Some will immediately that offense with the title of this post and immediately mount an argument of why I am wrong in my point of view.  But in my view, there are three traits common to Christian extremists and Islamic extremists: (i) hatred of others who are different, (ii) an unfounded sense of self-righteousness and piousness, and (iii) a fear, if not hatred, of modernity and modern knowledge. The only difference that in current times, Christian extremists have not been willing to resort to wholesale murder and violence.  Such, however, was not always the case and one need only look at the genocide committed by white Christians against Native Americans, both in North and South America, the Crusades, Europe's wars of religion, the massacre of "Old Believers" in Russia, the murder of Muslims in Nigeria at the directive of an Anglican archbishop, or the relatively recent murder and destruction of Catholic versus Protestant in Northern Ireland to realize that the relative peacefulness (at least compared to past atrocities) of Christians is not the historic norm.  In modern times, of course, gays are a favored group for attack by both Christofascists and Islamic Extremists. A piece in Patheos sums up what Christofascists think of LGBT individuals:
Baptist Church Senior Pastor Robby Gallaty told his large congregation that Christians should never stop discriminating against homosexuals, claiming that gays could choose to be straight if they only accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.
Gallaty explained why gays should be put to death:
God said that the sins of the people had infected the very land in which they live. So what happens to people who engage in this activity, this sexual immoral activity? Go to Leviticus 20, God gives us the punishment for engaging in these sins… ‘If a man sleeps with a man as with a woman, they have both committed a detestable thing. They must be put to death. And their blood is on their own hands.’
Pastor Gallaty tried to justify his Biblically inspired hatred for gays and lesbians by repeatedly trying to argue that being gay is a choice, and some sort of rebellion against his imaginary God’s divine plan.
And let's not forget that a number of the Republican presidential candidates last year attended a rally hosted by another "man of god" who supports the murder of gays.

Now, travel half way around the world to the Islamic Russian Republic of Chechnya where a pogrom to kill gays is underway.  Like Pastor Gallaty, pro-Kremlin leader, Ramzan A. Kadyrov, views gays as an affront to Allah that need to be eliminated.  Indeed, he has declared that gays will be eliminated from the republic by May 26, 2017, for the start of Ramadan.  The New York Times looks at the horrors taking place.  Here are excerpts:
GROZNY, Russia — It was supposed to be a night out. But for the young man who calls himself Maksim, as for scores of other gay men arrested in a pogrom this month in Russia’s Chechnya region, it pivoted into nearly two weeks of beatings and torture.
Maksim said it had started with a chat room conversation with “a very good old friend who is also gay,” and who suggested that they meet at an apartment. When Maksim arrived, however, he was greeted not by his friend but by agents who beat him. Later, they strapped him to a chair, attached electrical wires to his hands with alligator clips and began an interrogation.
“They yelled, ‘Who else do you know?’” Maksim said, and zapped him with current from time to time. “It was unbearably painful; I was hanging on with my last strength,” he added. “But I didn’t tell them anything.”
Gay men have never had an easy life in Chechnya. But the targeted, collective punishment of gays that began last month under its pro-Kremlin leader, Ramzan A. Kadyrov, is a new turn in the region’s long history of rights abuses.
The sweep has been widely condemned by Western governments, the United Nations and rights groups. Activists in Russia have set up an underground network to spirit the victims out of Chechnya and to protect them from potentially violent reprisals from their families and others. The victims use assumed names in their everyday dealings. Homosexuality is taboo in Chechnya and the mostly Muslim surrounding areas of the Caucasus region in southern Russia. “This society is highly homophobic,” said Ekaterina L. Sokiryanskaya, Russia project director for the International Crisis Group and an authority on Chechnya. “Homosexuality is condemned. It is believed Islam considers it a great sin.” Among the fatalities documented by the organization were one man who succumbed during torture and two others who died in “honor killings” by relatives after the police released them. In a televised meeting with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia on Wednesday, Mr. Kadyrov characterized as “libelous” news reports that the security services in Chechnya had been persecuting gay men.

Two different religions, yet the same mindset.  It should come as little surprise that Vladimir Putin is looking the other way in Chechnya since his anti-LGBT laws were enacted as part of his effort to win support from the vitriolically anti-gay Russian Orthodox Church. 

Christofascists point to Leviticus as justification, even though it was written by ignorant, uneducated authors of over 2500 years ago and most of its other prohibitions are completely ignored by the "godly folk."  In the case of Islam, the Koran was largely authored by an individual who in modern society would be placed in a mental institution.   Religion is truly a curse on mankind.

Saturday Morning Male Beauty

Friday, April 21, 2017

More Friday Male Beauty

Are Republicans About to Try Again to Throw Millions Off Health Insurance?

Talk in Washington, DC, is abuzz that congressional Republicans - and, of course, Der Trumpenführer - are about to make a second attempt to destroy Obamacare rather than fix it.  In the process, of course, they will throw millions of Americans off of healthcare coverage so that a huge tax cut can be delivered to the wealthiest Americans.  The last effort deservedly went down to defeat after setting off hostile town hall meetings where some Republican members of Congress fled from their own constituents.  Given that the true goal of "repeal and replacement" of Obamacare is a trillion dollar tax cut for the wealthy, there is no way in which the new, warmed over effort will bode well for a majority of Americans, especially the poor, those with serious illnesses and the elderly.  Paul Ryan, perhaps one of the most dishonest man in Congress and his allies truly wish these folks would simply roll into the gutter and die.  A column in the New York Times looks at the next GOP attack on average Americans for the sake of helping the few who already have so much.  Here are excerpts:
Republicans have spent many years denouncing Obamacare as a terrible, horrible, no good law and insisting that they can do much better. They successfully convinced many voters that they could preserve the good stuff — the dramatic expansion of coverage that has brought the percentage of Americans without health insurance to a record low — while reducing premiums, shrinking deductibles and, of course, doing away with the taxes on high incomes that pay for the program.
But health care costs money. In particular, if you want to make care available to Americans who have pre-existing medical conditions — including the condition of being not rich and being relatively old, but not yet eligible for Medicare — you have to find some way to subsidize them.
Obamacare provides those subsidies in part with direct public funding, in part with regulations that implicitly use premiums paid by the healthy to cover the cost of caring for the less healthy.
There are other possible ways to achieve the same goal, but the money has to come from somewhere.
Now you understand why there’s a predictable, repetitive rhythm to the health care story.
Again and again, we read news reports to the effect that Republicans are closing in on a plan that will break the political deadlock. They’ll repeal the Obamacare taxes and block-grant Medicaid! No, they’ll make insurance cheaper by eliminating the coverage requirements! Or, the latest idea being floated, they’ll let insurance companies raise premiums on people with pre-existing conditions and compensate by creating special high-risk pools!
And each time the plan turns out to have a fatal flaw. Millions will lose coverage; or they’ll keep coverage, but it will become so threadbare it’s almost worthless; or premiums will skyrocket for the most needy unless vast sums — hundreds of billions of dollars — are devoted to those high-risk pools.
The important thing to remember is that these problems don’t keep popping up because the people devising the plans are careless, and keep forgetting crucial issues. . . . . the task Republicans have set for themselves is basically impossible, their ongoing debacle over health care isn’t about political tactics or leadership. Even if Donald Trump were the great deal maker he claims to be, or Paul Ryan the policy wonk he poses as, this thing just can’t work.
The only way Republicans might have been able to do what they promised would be if they had some way to make health care much cheaper.
The truth is that while Republicans have portrayed Obamacare as a crazy, inefficient scheme, it has in fact been much more successful at containing costs than even its proponents expected.
There are some things we could do that would probably make it even cheaper, but they would all involve moving left — say, introducing a public option, or going all the way to single-payer. The G.O.P., which is determined to move right instead, reducing the public sector’s role, has offered no reason for anyone to believe that it could do better.
All of this raises the obvious question: If Republicans never had a plausible alternative to Obamacare, if this debacle was so inevitable, what was the constant refrain of “repeal and replace” all about?
The answer, surely, is that it began as a cynical ploy; at first, the Republicans hoped to kill health reform before it really got started. And now they’ve trapped themselves: They can’t admit that they have no ideas without, in effect, admitting that they were lying all along.

Ralph Northam: Anti-LGBT Bills Threatens Virginia’s Economy

In June, 2017, Virginia voters will decide who will be the Democrat candidate for governor of Virginia.  Given the toxic atmosphere in Washington,DC, and the Trump/Pence regime's attacks on LGBT civil rights it is critical that a Democrat be elected to the governor's mansion in November. Minorities and LGBT Virginians should be particularly concerned about the regressive and backward policies that a Republican governor would unleash on the Commonwealth.  But so too should employers seeking to attract the best and brightest and most talented employees to their businesses. in the past the Republican controlled Virginia General Assembly has passed toxic anti-LGBT bills that would have granted special rights to Christian extremists.  Thankfully, Governor McAuliffe vetoed the bills that made it through the legislature.  It is important that his successor recognize the economic damage legalizing hate would have on Virginia.  Ralph Northam - unlike his challenger for the gubernatorial nomination who gives LGBT rights only passing mention on his campaign website - understands this as he laid out in a op-ed in the Virginian Pilot.  Here are column highlights that remind us why we need Ralph Northam in the governor's mansion:
A governor’s priorities and values make an enormous difference in the direction of a state. Recent events have shown us that having the right governor can make all the difference.
Last month, Gov. Terry McAuliffe vetoed Senate Bill 41. The bill would discriminate against thousands of Virginians and send the absolute wrong message to current and prospective employers who want their employees and their families to live in a welcoming and inclusive commonwealth.
Why does this matter in Virginia? As a member of McAuliffe’s Economic Development Partnership and the Virginia Tourism Corporation, I work hard to make sure that Virginia is business-friendly and welcoming to all. The passage of SB41 through our General Assembly sends a signal to major companies, CEOs, and talented workers that Virginia could be the next North Carolina if we’re not careful.
In recent commentary for CNBC, Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson said “As a global hospitality leader and multistate employer, these legislative skirmishes can be frustrating and costly. We still see a patchwork of gaps in state and local nondiscrimination laws that add complications and uncertainty for our people and local managers. It dismays many of us that, in 29 states, people are still at risk of losing their job just for being gay or transgender. Predictability in nondiscrimination laws would be welcome.”
I am a cofounder and now co-owner of our Norfolk-based pediatric neurology practice, and as a small business owner I know that stability and predictability are attractive traits when planning the growth of your organization. Businesses should be interested in serving the most customers the best product possible, not figuring out the gender or relationship status of people who walk in the door. When Virginia offers a pro-business, all-are-welcome environment, we are better able to compete with other states.
Especially in light of federal budget cuts and sequestration, we have to continue to be innovative and forward thinking to grow our economy. This type of legislation hurts our efforts to attract new businesses and increase jobs, and that is why inclusion will continue to be one of my top priorities.
In my role as lieutenant governor and working with McAuliffe, my priority is to create an environment that best serves all Virginians. That means recruiting new businesses and supporting current businesses in order to bring good-paying jobs and top talent. That means providing basic services that every citizen needs in order to contribute to our common good. And that means ensuring that every Virginian has a fair shot to reach their full potential.
I will fight to keep Virginia focused on these priorities. 
Be assured that more discriminatory bills will be introduced in coming years by Republican legislators seeking to prostitute themselves to Christian extremists who hold undue influence over the GOP (this effort to infuse of religious based hate into the civil laws is one of the reasons I left the GOP a number of years ago as did most of my extended family).  We need a man like Ralph Northam in the governor's mansion to stop attacks of equality and openness in Virginia's economy.

Gavin Grimm Among Time’s 100 Most Influential People for 2017

I first met Gavin Grimm two years ago at an event at our home for panelists who were participating in an oral history project for the Hampton History Museum.  The event focused on "growing up gay in Hampton" and its environs and is but one of the projects the Museum has undertaken to preserve the words of real individuals for posterity (watermen, members of the black community and others have been the focus of past efforts).  My husband was on the panel as were several other individuals that we know.  The event at our home was intended to let panelist get to know each other so that they would have a higher comfort level while being filmed and recorded.   What struck me when I first met Gavin was his composure and how well spoken he was.  I teased him that he was a 30 year old in a 16 year old body.  It was an honor to be given an award as an "outstanding Virginian" along side Gavin earlier this month (see the image above - not the best photo of me!).  Now, Gavin has been named one of Time Magazine's 100 most influential individuals for 2017.  The honor is well deserved and I count myself honored to know Gavin and his family, especially his amazing mother, Deirdre. The Daily Press notes Gavin's latest honor.  Here are highlights:
Nearly two years after suing Gloucester County schools over its restroom use policy, 17-year-old transgender student Gavin Grimm has been named one of Time Magazine's most influential people in the world.
The magazine's annual 100-person list features artists, politicians, lawmakers, scientists and leaders of technology and business. Just shy of his 18th birthday Grimm is the youngest on this year's list. He was named last fall to Time's list of most influential teens for 2016.
"It's inconceivable. I still haven't really registered it. To have a place immortalized through Time, literally, and in the sense of the publication, is such an honor," Grimm said at his home in Gloucester. "To have a transgender youth activist on a list of influential people is a hugely important step forward for transgender advocacy. It sends the message that the story is being told and the message is being heard."
Time announced the list on Thursday and according to magazine, those included have a lesson to teach and the power to make people think. Grimm is listed as a pioneer along with people like Samantha Bee, Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner, and Chance the Rapper.

Kudos to Gavin!  I definitely count Gavin as one of my heroes.   He is an inspiration and those who are suffer from anti-transgender animus would due well to get to know him and/or other members of the transgender community.  Gavin is proof that one person can make a difference.  For those who have not seen it, make a point to watch Gender Revolution on the National Geographic Channel which was hosted by Katie Couric.  The program should be mandatory viewing for legislators and right wing Christians.  Ignorance and clinging to comfortable but untrue myths is not an acceptable excuse in this day and age.

14% of US Christians Left Their Churches After Trump's Election

Trump - a barometer for evangelical Christian moral bankruptcy
It would appear that Donald Trump, a/k/a Der Trumpenführer, is not only politically divisive but has also created division and an exodus of some evangelical Christians from their churches.  A Washington Post chartered survey found that 14% of church goers had left their churches since the November 2016 presidential election.  While the survey is not conclusive, the fact that 19% of evangelicals did not vote for the thrice married, serial adulterer, and pathological liar who embodies a number of the seven deadly sins suggests that some of those leaving their churches might be those fed up with their denomination's moral bankruptcy as evidenced by support of Der Trumpenführer.  A piece in The Independent looks at the survey findings.  Here are highlights:
The 2016 presidential contest highlighted just how deeply divided the United States is over both politics and religion. The vast majority of white evangelicals (81 percent) voted for Trump. A strong majority of religious “nones” — those who do not identify with any religious tradition — voted for Clinton (68 percent).
Of course, the divide does not stop at the vote. For example, between May 2016 and February 2017, almost every religious group came to oppose Trump’s proposed temporary ban on allowing Muslims into the US. The exception? White evangelical Protestants, who increased their level of support for the policy. The largest gap on this issue is the one between evangelicals and nones, which grew from 28 to 41 percentage points.
How did we get here? One answer is sorting. That is, people may reevaluate their religious membership when they sense political (or other) disagreement, leaving their houses of worship more homogeneous organisations. While this happens across the religious spectrum, here we highlight new evidence that disagreement over Trump’s candidacy actually led some evangelicals to leave their church.
Of those who said they had attended a house of worship in September, 14 percent reported that they had left that particular church by mid-November. . . . . This represents an enormous amount of churn in the religious economy.
But was that churn influenced by politics? To find out if they attended a “political church,” we asked respondents if their clergy addressed any of eight political topics. We also asked, more generally, if seeing evidence of politics reminded them of how divisive politics has become. About 15 percent of those who believe that American politics has become divisive left their political houses of worship. Of those who don’t think politics is inherently divisive, close to none left their political house of worship.
[T]hose who felt that they and their clergy disagreed over Trump in September were the most likely to report leaving that house of worship by November.
More specifically, for 20 years, liberal to moderate evangelicals have been leaving their churches because they disagree with the Christian right. This is important because it allows us to recognise that this sorting process is plural, local, and continual. It is not something owned by the left or right, but a regular and expected part of life in all religious organisations.
Are these patterns troubling? Observers’ opinions differ. Religious institutions have long been practice grounds for skills later turned toward politics. On the one hand, if people are leaving houses of worship because of political disagreements, they may not be learning the skills needed to talk across differences and participate in politics.
Personally, I hope that Trump and the evangelicals who showed their moral bankruptcy by supporting him ultimately hasten the demise of Christianity.  I look forward to the day when Christians are a minority in America and begin to experience the vile mistreatment they have dished out to others for centuries.  Karma could prove to be a major bitch.   

Friday Morning Male Beauty - Pt 1

I am very susceptible to a pretty face and beautiful eyes.  This guy is gorgeous.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Thursday Morning Male Beauty - Pt 2

Another Contrived Battle in the Phony War on Religion

If one listens to most far right conservative Christians, they will tell you that they and their faith are under unceasing attack.  Anything that restricts their ability to mistreat and discriminate against others is labeled as oppression and a threat to their "religious liberty."  The same holds true with anything that restricts their ability to suck up taxpayer funds to fuel their church operations or "ministries" such as those that operate adoption services.  Put another way, these Christofascists seek to be above the laws that govern the rest of America and they seek to force every tax payer to under write their religion (something that already occurs due to churches' tax-exempt status).  Now, a case before the U.S. Supreme Court seeks to force the State of Missouri to pay for a playground on church property.  The church involved, Trinity Lutheran Church, in Columbia, Missouri, is a part of the so-called Missouri Synod, an extremely right wing, anti-gay, anti-modernity branch of the Lutheran church in the United States.  In Trinity Lutheran v. Comer, it is arguing that taxpayers should pay for the upgrade of its school playground - a playground that is not open to the public.  One good review of the manufactured controversy is here in The Atlantic.  A column in the Washington Post looks at the case which Christofascists hope to use as a foothold to divert public education funds to church affiliated schools.  Here are excerpts:  
Before he joined the Supreme Court a decade ago, John Roberts proclaimed what he called “the cardinal rule of judicial restraint: If it is not necessary to decide more, it is necessary not to decide more.”
But as he heard arguments Wednesday in this term’s much anticipated church-state case, the chief justice seemed to be practicing a different rule from the one he preached: More is more.
Restraint was in short supply during oral arguments in the Trinity Lutheran Church case at the high court. It was a manufactured controversy, cooked up by conservative interest groups that are hoping to chip away at constitutional provisions in 39 states restricting taxpayer money from going to churches. In this case, it wasn’t only unnecessary to decide more — it was unnecessary to decide it at all.
It wasn’t a big deal to start with: A preschool in Missouri had applied for a state grant in 2012 to repave its playground with flooring made from old tires. The state rated the application highly but denied the grant because the school was run by a church. The church sued.
The complaint became irrelevant last week when the state’s new governor, Eric Greitens, reversed Missouri’s position and said he would allow religious organizations to compete for such grants. 
Sonia Sotomayor asked Layton: If representatives of the state “are not willing to fight this case, are they manufacturing adversity by appointing you?”
The short answer: Yes.
In front of the Supreme Court on Wednesday, Concerned Women for America, a conservative group, was displaying balloons and signs proclaiming “Every Child’s Safety Matters.” Said Annette Kiehne, the Trinity Lutheran preschool director, “This is about keeping our kids safe, wherever they play.”
But it really wasn’t about that. It was about interest groups whose business model depends on perpetuating the culture wars trying to frighten people into thinking Christianity is under siege. It was a springtime version of the annual “war on Christmas.”
Michael Farris, CEO of the Alliance Defending Freedom, which represented Trinity in the case, was fairly straightforward about his motives, telling reporters in the plaza that “there’s a broad concern among religious people in this country that we’re becoming second-class citizens.”
But if this supposed assault on Christianity is real, it has been going on for a long time. Opponents of the church-state language in state constitutions correctly say that these “Blaine Amendments” were shaped by anti-Catholic bigotry in the late 19th century. But their roots go back to the founding. Layton told the justices that Missouri in 1820 adopted language based on Thomas Jefferson’s 1786 Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, which said that “no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever.”
What has changed now? Nothing — except the rise of interest groups (on both sides) that justify their existence and boost their fundraising with such controversies. The goal this time: to roll back restrictions on public money going to churches. An article in the conservative National Review argued that “a victory for Trinity Lutheran would fundamentally alter the landscape of school choice.”
So that’s what it’s about: Invalidating dozens of state constitutional provisions keeping public money out of churches. “There are 39 states with constitutional amendments like the one Missouri has. That’s a history,” Sotomayor said. “And the essence of that history is, basically, we don’t want . . . the vast majority of states to fund houses of worship.”
[T]he American tradition that the government doesn’t give cash to churches is venerable. A restrained judiciary wouldn’t upend that tradition because of a manufactured conflict over a playground.

The church's suit needs to be thrown out.  Religious institutions of all stripes have a simple choice:  if they want taxpayer funds, then they must not discriminate and must make their facilities open to the public.  If they are not willing to take that approach, then do not ask for taxpayer funds.  It really is that simple.  But I'd go further.  Tax-exempt status for churches needs to end.  Taxpayers should not be forced to indirectly support churches they do not attend and that may be outright hostile towards them.  Moreover, most churches spend a pittance on true charity work, so the myth that they are true charities needs to end.  They are little more than clubs to which people choose to join.  Their "fellowship" is little different that what one finds at most yacht clubs and country clubs. They do NOT deserve public funds.  End of discussion.

Putin-Linked Think Tank Drew up Plan to Sway U.S. 2016 Election

The pathological liar that currently occupies the White House continues to deny that Russian efforts sought to throw the 2026 presidential election in his favor.  Likewise, he denies that he and his henchmen colluded in the Russian efforts.  Further, Vladimir Putin denies that Russia engaged in any such efforts.  Based on reports from Reuters, both Trump and Putin are lying. Documents obtained by American intelligence agencies reveal that a Putin directed Russian think tank drew up a detailed plan of actions to be used to sway the election and undermine American democracy in general.  The irony is that many far right American outlets that claim to be ultra-patriots in fact ran with the concocted lies that derived from Russian efforts.  Here are excerpts from Reuters:
A Russian government think tank controlled by Vladimir Putin developed a plan to swing the 2016 U.S. presidential election to Donald Trump and undermine voters’ faith in the American electoral system, three current and four former U.S. officials told Reuters.
They described two confidential documents from the think tank as providing the framework and rationale for what U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded was an intensive effort by Russia to interfere with the Nov. 8 election. U.S. intelligence officials acquired the documents, which were prepared by the Moscow-based Russian Institute for Strategic Studies [], after the election.
The first Russian institute document was a strategy paper written last June that circulated at the highest levels of the Russian government but was not addressed to any specific individuals.
It recommended the Kremlin launch a propaganda campaign on social media and Russian state-backed global news outlets to encourage U.S. voters to elect a president who would take a softer line toward Russia than the administration of then-President Barack Obama, the seven officials said.
A second institute document, drafted in October and distributed in the same way, warned that Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was likely to win the election. For that reason, it argued, it was better for Russia to end its pro-Trump propaganda and instead intensify its messaging about voter fraud to undermine the U.S. electoral system’s legitimacy and damage Clinton’s reputation in an effort to undermine her presidency, the seven officials said.
The current and former U.S. officials spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the Russian documents’ classified status. They declined to discuss how the United States obtained them. U.S. intelligence agencies also declined to comment on them.
Four of the officials said the approach outlined in the June strategy paper was a broadening of an effort the Putin administration launched in March 2016. That month the Kremlin instructed state-backed media outlets, including international platforms Russia Today and Sputnik news agency, to start producing positive reports on Trump’s quest for the U.S. presidency, the officials said.
Russia Today and Sputnik published anti-Clinton stories while pro-Kremlin bloggers prepared a Twitter campaign calling into question the fairness of an anticipated Clinton victory, according to a report by U.S. intelligence agencies on Russian interference in the election made public in January. []
Russia Today’s most popular Clinton video - “How 100% of the 2015 Clintons’ ‘charity’ went to ... themselves” - accumulated 9 millions views on social media, according to the January report. []
The report said Russia Today and Sputnik “consistently cast president elect-Trump as the target of unfair coverage from traditional media outlets."
Neither of the Russian institute documents mentioned the release of hacked Democratic Party emails to interfere with the U.S. election, according to four of the officials. The officials said the hacking was a covert intelligence operation run separately out of the Kremlin.
The overt propaganda and covert hacking efforts reinforced each other, according to the officials. Both Russia Today and Sputnik heavily promoted the release of the hacked Democratic Party emails, which often contained embarrassing details.
Five of the U.S. officials described the institute as the Kremlin’s in-house foreign policy think tank. 
How much more will it take before my Republican "friends" who voted for Trump admit that they were played for fools?  Or were Trump's calls to racism and white supremacy all they really cared about?

Allegations Against Bill O’Reilly Piled Up for Years Before His Demise

As the saying goes, better late than never.  That phrase certainly sums up yesterday's decision by Fox News to fire Bill O'Reilly who has sexually harassed women for years.  It should be lost on no one that just recently Donald Trump, a/k/a Der  Trumpenführer,  another perennial sexual predator, lauded O'Reilly.  Many on the far right and Fox News devotees will likely take the stance that O'Reilly's demise was the result of some sort of liberal conspiracy.  The fact that there is a long list of foul deeds by O'Reilly simply doesn't matter to these people, especially since O'Reilly regularly played to their prejudices and bigotry.  A piece in The Daily Beast looks at some of the disgusting behavior of O'Reilly.  It does not make for polite reading and is certainly not what you would want your children to read much less experience.  Here are some article highlights (read the entire piece to understand the depth of O'Reilly's nastiness):
The reign of the most-watched host on the right-wing cable news network is coming to an end after two full decades, brought down by a perfect storm of newly unearthed sexual-harassment accusations, a massive advertiser boycott, and the absence of Roger Ailes, a fellow serial harasser of women, to protect him.
21st Century Fox confirmed the end of O’Reilly’s tenure in a Wednesday statement: “After a thorough and careful review of the allegations, the Company and Bill O’Reilly have agreed that Bill O’Reilly will not be returning to the Fox News Channel.”
Even though this latest spate of accusations were what led to his on-air demise, O’Reilly has had a long, troubling history with women in both the workplace and at home.
In October 2004, the O’Reilly Factor star was hit with possibly the greatest lawsuit in the history of cable news: then-associate producer Andrea Mackris accused O’Reilly of sexual harassment, quoting the famed gasbag verbatim from phone calls she surreptitiously recorded.
According to the suit, the at-times “tyrannical and menacing” O’Reilly would masturbate while on the phone with Mackris, at other points suggesting she purchase a vibrator; engage in phone sex or a threesome with him; and listen to lurid details of his alleged sexual encounters with a cabana masseuse, airline stewardesses, and Thai sex-show workers.
Perhaps most famously, O’Reilly fantasized to Mackris how he’d like to shower with her and fondle her with a loofah, which he mistakenly called a “falafel thing” later in the call, according to a transcript.
Mackris also alleged that the then-married O’Reilly threatened to make any woman who complains about his behavior “pay so dearly that she’ll wish she’d never been born.” Two weeks later, he settled the case with a payout around $9 million.
Two years earlier O’Reilly settled with a junior producer named Rachel Witlieb Bernstein, according to the New York Times. Bernstein accused him not of sexual harassment but of belligerent, bullying behavior, including storming into the newsroom to scream at her.
At home, O’Reilly’s temper was no less a problem.
According to court documents from his vicious custody battle with ex-wife Maureen McPhilmy, O’Reilly may have engaged in domestic violence. As Gawker reported at the time, the ex-couple’s teenage daughter told a court-appointed forensic examiner that she witnessed O’Reilly “choking her mom” as he “‘dragged her down some stairs’ by the neck.”
Meanwhile, the sexual-harassment allegations from co-workers continued to pour in. As the Times unearthed last month, former Fox Business Network anchor Rebecca Gomez Diamond had also secretly recorded phone calls in which O’Reilly made unwanted advances on her.
O’Reilly has vociferously denied all of the accusations made against him, with his lawyer often issuing overwrought statements about how the volcanic host “has been subjected to a brutal campaign of character assassination that is unprecedented in post-McCarthyist America.”
But with Ailes gone and the younger sons of News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch asserting greater control of the company, O’Reilly has no one left to protect him.
Bill-O can rest easy, however, knowing he has one defender: President Donald Trump, who said, “I don’t think Bill did anything wrong.”
Good riddance to one foul individual.  Now we need to be rid of his cheerleader in the White House.

Thursday Morning Male Beauty - Pt 1

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Did Trump Direct Intelligence Agencies to Create Support for Wiretap Claims?

Yesterday was a good day: Rep. Jason Chaffez announced that he will not seek reelection in 2018 and Bill O'Reilly was fired by Fox News. News in a different category is a story at Talking Points Memo that indicates that sources in the American intelligence agencies were directed by the White House - read Der Trumpenführer acting through flunkies - to find or create "evidence" that would support Trump's false claims (lies is a more apt description) that Barack Obama had wiretapped Trump Tower.  In the sea of malfeasance that is the Trump administration - and that doesn't include the growing stories seemingly backing up collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives - this story, if proven true, underscores why Trump needs to be removed from office.  Here are excerpts from Talking Points Memo's piece:  
The intelligence community was allegedly directed to provide cover for President Donald Trump’s baseless claim that Trump Tower was wiretapped by his predecessor, the New Yorker reported Tuesday.
An anonymous intelligence source told the magazine’s Ryan Lizza that “the White House said, ‘We are going to mobilize to find something to justify the President’s tweet that he was being surveilled.’”
Asking for an “all-points bulletin,” or a request to look through intelligence reports, White House officials said, “We need to find something that justifies the President’s crazy tweet about surveillance at Trump Tower,” according to Lizza’s source.
The alleged effort to justify the President’s outlandish wiretapping claim sparked a month-long goose chase that culminated with House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) temporarily recusing himself from the panel’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the U.S. election.
Trump administration officials first said the President didn’t mean that he was literally being wiretapped, or that this alleged surveillance happened at Trump Tower before the election, as his tweets claimed. Three White House staffers were later identified in news reports as having provided Nunes with documents that led him to publicly claim that Trump staffers’ identities had been unmasked in appropriately in transcripts of conversations swept up in routine foreign surveillance.
National security experts said such unmasking requests were sometimes necessary to understand the context of intelligence reports, but Nunes added fuel to the fire by strongly suggesting such requests were improper. He ended up stepping aside from the Russia investigation over allegations that he revealed classified information in his many press conferences on the topic, which he dismissed as “politically motivated.” The House Committee on Ethics is currently investigating whether Nunes made any “unauthorized disclosures of classified information.”
Multiple publications have since cited Republican and Democratic lawmakers and aides who viewed the same documents as Nunes and found nothing unusual to report.
The two unnamed intelligence sources Lizza spoke to said the same, with one calling them “about as plain vanilla as can be” and the other saying “there’s absolutely nothing there.”

Wednesday Morning Male Beauty - Pt 2

Mexico’s Revenge on Trump - and His Supporters

While Donald Trump's attacks on Hispanics and non-whites in general has played well with the most most ignorant - evangelical Christians are the least educated of any religious group in America - and racist/xenophobic elements of his base, the economic results could prove catastrophic if Mexico decides to exact revenge against Trump's America.  Already, talk of Mexico shifting its agricultural purchases to Argentina and Brazil has Mid-West farmers sweating bullets at the prospect of severe economic and financial damage.  Indeed, the repeal of NAFTA, one of Trump's favorite whipping boys, does not play well in these farming states. But Mexico's revenge could prove even more damaging.  In addition to Mexican intelligence services ending their cooperation with their American counterparts - something that could increase illegal immigration into America - Mexico could tilt toward China as its new found favorite trading partner.  Needless to say, the ignorant, loud mouthed, bullying, narcissist in the White House has never thought of these types of  consequences.  A long piece in The Atlantic looks at the Mexican revenge Trump may be setting into motion. Here are highlights:
When donald trump first made sport of thumping Mexico—when he accused America’s neighbor of exporting rapists and “bad hombres,” when he deemed the country such a threat that it should be contained by a wall and so clueless that it could be suckered into paying for its own encasement—its president responded with strange equilibrium. 

Since then, the Mexican political elite has begun to ponder retaliatory measures that would reassert the country’s dignity, and perhaps even cause the Trump administration to reverse its hostile course. With a presidential election in just over a year—and Peña Nieto prevented by term limits from running again—vehement responses to Trump are considered an electoral necessity. Memos outlining policies that could wound the United States have begun flying around Mexico City. These show that Trump has committed the bully’s error of underestimating the target of his gibes. As it turns out, Mexico could hurt the United States very badly.
The Mexico–U.S. border is long, but the history of close cooperation across it is short. As recently as the 1980s, the countries barely contained their feelings of mutual contempt. Mexico didn’t care for the United States’ anticommunist policy in Central America, especially its support of Nicaraguan rebels. In 1983, President Miguel de la Madrid obliquely warned the Reagan administration against “shows of force which threaten to touch off a conflagration.” 
The grandiose promise of trade is that it binds countries together, breeding peace and cooperation. This is a risible overstatement when applied generally to the world. But in the case of the countries separated by the Rio Grande, it has proved wondrously true. A generation after the signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement, the United States and Mexico couldn’t be more interdependent. Anti-Americanism, once a staple of Mexican politics, has largely faded. The flow of migrants from Mexico to the U.S. has, more or less, abated. Economic ties have fostered greater intimacy between intelligence services and security agencies, which are today deeply enmeshed in each other’s business. 
But the Trump administration has come dangerously close to trashing the relationship—and, in the process, unleashing a terrifying new reality.
The Chinese invested heavily in places like Peru, Brazil, and Venezuela, discreetly flexing soft power as they funded new roads, refineries, and railways. From 2000 to 2013, China’s bilateral trade with Latin America increased by 2,300 percent, according to one calculation. A raft of recently inked deals forms the architecture for China to double its annual trade with the region, to $500 billion, by the middle of the next decade. Mexico, however, has remained a grand exception to this grand strategy. 
Mexico also happens to be the one spot in Latin America where the United States would respond with alarm to a heavy Chinese presence.
That sort of alarm is just the thing some Mexicans would now like to provoke. What Mexican analysts have called the “China card”—a threat to align with America’s greatest competitor—is an extreme retaliatory option. Former Mexican Foreign Minister Jorge Castañeda told me he considers it an implausible expression of “machismo.” Unfortunately, Trump has elevated machismo to foreign-policy doctrine . . . And while a tighter Chinese–Mexican relationship would fly in the face of recent economic history, Trump may have already set it in motion.
The painful early days of the Trump administration have reminded Mexico of a core economic weakness: The country depends far too heavily on the American market. “Mexico is realizing that it has been overexposed to the U.S., and it’s now trying to hedge its bets,” says Kevin Gallagher, an economist at Boston University who specializes in Latin America. “Any country where 80 percent of exports go to the U.S., it’s a danger.” . . . . The presence of Trump, with his brusque talk of tariffs and promises of economic nationalism, makes that an urgent task.
Until recently, a Mexican–Chinese rapprochement would have been unthinkable. . . . . But China has played the long game, and its patience has proved farsighted. The reason so many Chinese are ascending to the middle class is that wages have tripled over the past decade. The average hourly wage in Chinese manufacturing is now $3.60. Over that same period of time, hourly manufacturing wages in Mexico have fallen to $2.10. Even taking into account the extraordinary productivity of Chinese factories—not to mention the expense that comes with Mexico’s far greater fidelity to the rules of international trade—Mexico increasingly looks like a sensible place for Chinese firms to set up shop, particularly given its proximity to China’s biggest export market.
Let’s pause to consider the illogic. Trump says that China is a grave threat, both militarily and economically. He has accused China of “rap[ing] our country.” That’s not the way most analysts would put it, but a fairly broad bipartisan consensus holds that China’s expansionism should be contained and its mercantilism checked. Barack Obama’s vaunted “pivot” to Asia tried to keep China’s neighbors from succumbing to its gravitational pull. Thanks to Donald Trump, China is now better positioned to execute the most difficult maneuver in its own, North American pivot—pushing the U.S. and Mexico further apart.
What seems more likely is that relations between the security agencies will slowly decay, as trust between the two countries evaporates and warm feelings give way to tensions.
Trump’s rush toward hard-line immigration policies could yield a grim bonanza of other unintended consequences. Mass deportations of Mexicans could uproot hundreds of thousands and deposit them on the other side of the border, forcing their reintegration into lives they left, many of them long ago. Perhaps the Mexican economy, the 15th-largest in the world, has the capacity to absorb these refugees from Trump’s America. But it’s equally easy to imagine a scenario in which they inundate the labor market. And even that possibility doesn’t begin to capture the likely economic costs of deportation. The Mexican economy would be deprived of the remittances that immigrants send back to their relatives. It’s hard to speak hyperbolically about the importance of these transfers—in 2016, Mexican Americans sent $27 billion back to their Mexican families, more than the value of the crude petroleum Mexico exports annually. 
[W]ith Trump’s angry talk and the Mexican resentment it stirs, the best hope for the persistence of this improved relationship is inertia—the interlocking supply chain that crosses the border and won’t easily pull apart, the agricultural exports that flow in both directions, all the bureaucratic cooperation. Unwinding this relationship would be ugly and painful, a strategic blunder of the highest order, a gift to America’s enemies, a gaping vulnerability for the homeland that Donald Trump professes to protect, a very messy divorce.
The perverse part of me would love to see Mexico shift its agricultural product purchases from Mid-West sources.  The cretins in these states who put Trump in office deserve to suffer greatly.  As for the rise of China-Mexico relations, if it happens, it will be the fault of Der Trumpenführer.