Saturday, December 13, 2014

Saturday Morning Male Beauty

The Ancient Mythological Origins of Christmas

Every year around the Christmas holiday season we see the Christofascists claim there is a "war on Christmas" as they seek to force their religious beliefs on all.  Thus, each year it is appropriate to remember that Christmas was a holiday created by the Catholic Church to commandeer pagan festivals and revamp them into something that satisfied the Christian story line.  It is likewise important to remember that the whole narrative of virgin births and of a god dying and rising to conquer death were not a new story lines in Palestine and the Roman Empire at the time the Jesus story came into being.  A piece in Salon looks at the real origins of Christmas.  Here are excerpts:
The familiar Christmas story, including the virgin conception and birth of Jesus, is found in the gospels of Matthew and Luke. Scholars have pointed out that these stories are somewhat disconnected from other parts of these Gospels and the rest of the New Testament. In fact, by the time he is a young boy in the temple, Jesus’s parents seem to have forgotten the virgin birth. They act surprised by his odd behavior. There is never any other mention in the New Testament of these incredible events! These stories seem to be an afterthought, written later than the rest of the gospels that contain them. To make matters more interesting, the stories themselves have inconsistencies and ambiguities – contradictory genealogies, for example. Our Christmas story (singular) is actually a composite.

Or consider the idea that Mary is a virgin. The Greek writer of Matthew quotes Isaiah as saying: “a parthenos shall conceive and bear a child.” The Hebrew word in Isaiah is “almah,” which means simply “young woman.” But the Greek word parthenos can mean either a virgin or a young woman, and it got translated as “virgin.” Modern Bible translations have corrected this, but it is a central part of the Christmas story.

One part of the answer comes from Hellenistic culture. (It is no accident all New Testament books written in Greek.) In this tradition, when a man did something extraordinary there was the assumption that he did this because he was different, either divine or semi-divine. They would make up a story about how he came to be divine.

Almost all Greek heroes were said to be born of a human woman and a god–even Alexander the Great, Augustus and Pythagoras.  The father typically was Zeus or Apollo. The god would come and sleep with the woman, pretending to be the husband or as a bolt of lightning, or some such.

[I]t appears that these birth stories were added toward the end, so scripture got frozen before they could get integrated.

Think of it as a frog and pond. The pond is real, the frog is not. They are fictional stories in a real setting. They don’t always get the details of the setting right, but they are fictional characters in real places. The Magi follow their star from Jerusalem to Bethlehem. The author has in mind a real star that would be in front of you in this situation. It would have to be a star in the far southern sky. Remember what I said about the Heavenly Host being stars? The star in Matthew and the angel in Luke are two variants of the same mythology.

PFOX Idiocy: Billboard Features Gay Non-Twin

PFOX - Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays - the Christofascist funded small group of "ex-gays for pay" is a never ending clown car/train wreck.  It's as if the Three Stooges were in charge of PFOX's constantly bungled efforts.  Just in time for the holiday season, PFOX put up a billboard adjacent to busy I-95 in the Richmond area that purports to show identical twins and makes the false claim that no one is born gay.  The problem?  The model whose photo was used int he billboard is (i) not a twin, and (ii) is a proud gay.  Greg Quinlan - PFOX's tortured, self-loathing "ex-gay for pay" president makes a buffoon out of himself and PFOX yet again!  Here are highlights from Huffington Post:

A new wrinkle has emerged in the controversy over an "ex-gay" group's Virginia billboard which purportedly depicted a set of "identical twins."

Model Kyle Roux, who hails from South Africa, says he was shocked that his image was used in the Virginia-based ad, especially because he identifies as an "out and proud" gay man, NBC affiliate WWBT first reported.

"It just seems like there no place in today's world for an organization that is promoting this as being some kind of deviant or distasteful lifestyle, because I've lived my life openly gay and happy for my entire life," Roux, who added that he is not a twin as the billboard proclaims, told the news station. 

The ad, which appeared recently beside I-95 in Richmond, depicts two men, one dressed in a suit and the other in a white T-shirt, and says: "Identical twins: One gay. One not. We believe twin research studies show nobody is born gay."

A representative for PFOX did not respond to The Huffington Post's initial request for comment.
As noted in a prior post, the researcher behind the twin study that PFOX cites says that PFOX is misreporting and twisting the findings of his work - something PFOX seems to do constantly.

DUH! Catholic Church Celibacy Rule Fueled Sex Abuse

Anyone living in the real world who was raised Catholic ought to realize that the requirement of priestly celibacy played a huge role in the worldwide sex abuse scandal that has wracked the Roman Catholic Church.  Between the Church hierarchy's neurotic obsession with sex and all things sexual and the role celibacy played in offering a safe hiding place for the psycho-sexually disturbed products of the Church's teaching on sex, the formula for sexual abuse of children and youths should have been foreseen.  Nonetheless, for over a decade, the Vatican has denied that celibacy had any role in the incidence of sexual abuse.  Now, an investigation in Australia talks about the elephant in the room. As The Guardian reports, the Church is finally conceding that just maybe, celibacy was the fuse that caused the explosion of abuse.  Here are highlights:
Celibacy could have contributed to the instances of child sexual abuse in the Catholic church, a report by the church’s Truth, Justice and Healing Council in Australia has found.

The report, released on Friday as a response to the royal commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse, said “obligatory celibacy” for Catholic priests “may … have contributed to abuse in some circumstances”, and recommended priests undergo “psycho-sexual development” training.

Council CEO Francis Sullivan told Guardian Australia that priests needed to undergo “education” to develop emotional and sexual awareness, “like what you and I do as adults”.

Sullivan said the group was not suggesting abolishing the vow of celibacy, but rather addressing how priests can “keep the integrity of their vows”.

“It’s about learning the risks of blurring the boundaries. Knowing the risks that intimacy can bring,” he said. “We are not talking about lifting the vow of celibacy.”

The report said the church’s response to child sex abuse had been shaped by its culture and “clericalism”, which it defined as an “ordained ministry geared to power over others, not service to others”.

“Church institutions and their leaders, over many decades, seemed to turn a blind eye, either instinctively or deliberately, to the abuse happening within their diocese or religious order, protecting the institution rather than caring for the child,” the report said.

It said the selection process for priests may have contributed to a culture that ignored abuse.
The report also said the council would support a national statutory compensation scheme for victims of child sexual abuse above providing compensation directly to victims.

“The church should no longer investigate itself. It does not have the trust of victims,” Sullivan said.

As for the recommended "education" and "psycho-sexual" education, what we are really talking about if it is to be effective is years of therapy for priests screwed up by the Church's sexual teachings.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Friday Morning Male Beauty

Top Scientists to Media - Stop Providing Cover for Climate Change Deniers

Many wrongs go on in America and many bad policies are allowed to happen because the media fails to report the true facts and/or gives deference to those who do not deserve it.  Part of this latter phenomenon is when the media allows hate merchants like Tony Perkins or GOP Neanderthals like Sen. James Inhofe to state their views unchallenged even though there is nothing to support them other than toxic religious belief or, in Inhofe's case, idiocy.  Several dozen scientists have had enough of the media's tacit support of lies and groundless beliefs and have called on the media to stop giving cover to climate change deniers, most of whom are Republicans and Christofascists.  Think Progress looks at the matter.  Here are highlights:
Four dozen leading scientists and science journalists/communicators have issued a statement urging the media to “Please stop using the word ‘skeptic’ to describe deniers” of climate science.

The 48 signatories, Fellows of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI), include such luminaries as Nobel laureate Sir Harold Kroto; Douglas Hofstadter, Director of The Center for Research on Concepts and Cognition at Indiana University; physicist Lawrence Krauss, Director of The Arizona State University Origins Project; and Bill Nye “the Science Guy.” Full list here.

The scientists and journalists were motivated by a Nov, 10, 2014, New York Times article “Republicans Vow to Fight EPA and Approve Keystone Pipeline” that referred to Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) as “a prominent skeptic of climate change.” They note that same week, NPR’s Morning Edition called Inhofe “one of the leading climate change deniers in Congress.” The signatories note, “These are not equivalent statements” and the two terms should not be conflated.

“Proper skepticism promotes scientific inquiry, critical investigation, and the use of reason in examining controversial and extraordinary claims,” the letter reads. “It is foundational to the scientific method. Denial, on the other hand, is the a priori rejection of ideas without objective consideration.”

Inhofe has never been able to provide even ordinary evidence for his absurd conspiracy charge. “That alone should disqualify him [Inhofe] from using the title ‘skeptic’.”

The signatories end by explaining:
As scientific skeptics, we are well aware of political efforts to undermine climate science by those who deny reality but do not engage in scientific research or consider evidence that their deeply held opinions are wrong. The most appropriate word to describe the behavior of those individuals is “denial.” . . . . We ask that journalists use more care when reporting on those who reject climate science, and hold to the principles of truth in labeling. Please stop using the word “skeptic” to describe deniers.
Physicians, cardiovascular scientists, public health experts and others all agree smoking causes cancer,” the report said. “And this consensus among the health community has convinced most Americans that the health risks from smoking are real. A similar consensus now exists among climate scientists, a consensus that maintains climate change is happening, and human activity is the cause.”

Cheney - Bush Knew About CIA Torture

Apparently wanting to make sure that, like himself, Chimperator George Bush can never again leave American territory, Emperor Palpatine Cheney is working hard to dispel the storyline of those who are trying to depict Bush as too clueless to have known about the CIA torture program and other war crime abuses being committed in the name of the American people.  MSN News reports on Cheney's effort to fully implicate George W. Bush.  Here are excerpts:

President George W Bush was fully aware and an "integral part" of the CIA's torture of terror suspects, his vice-president Dick Cheney said Wednesday. 

The long-awaited US Senate report released Tuesday on the program of harsh treatment and torture of detainees said Bush only learned details of it in 2006, four years after it started in the wake of the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington.

Speaking to Fox News, Cheney denied Bush was kept out of the loop. He said the then-president "was in fact an integral part of the program and he had to approve it."

Asked if Bush knew specific details of how specific interrogations were being conducted, Cheney was more vague, saying: "We did discuss the techniques. There was no effort on our part to keep him from that."

Bush has yet to speak out publicly on the Senate report, which has drawn scathing criticism worldwide of what the CIA has called "enhanced interrogation techniques", amid calls for those involved to face trial.

"Such a gross violation of our liberal, democratic values must not happen again," German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said, reflecting the embarrassment of Washington's European allies.
America's great power rival China -- often on the end of US censure for its rights record -- was equally unimpressed.

"We believe the US side should reflect upon itself, correct its ways and earnestly respect and abide by the rules of international conventions," Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said.
The United Nations said the program violated international law and basic human rights, and British-based advocacy group CAGE demanded criminal proceedings.

Around the world, human rights bodies demanded that current US President Barack Obama -- who halted the torture but has not gone after the perpetrators -- take legal action.
Bush and Cheney et al have done immense damage to America's ability to chide others on human rights abuses.  True, America has a very ugly history, if one knows accurate history, but the use of torture and war crimes makes it clear that nothing has really changed and America is plagued with hypocrisy.  People around the world are tired of being told by America to "do as we say and not as we do."

Quote of the Day - The Sad Truth About "Ex-Gays"

Every legitimate medical and mental health association in America deems sexual orientation as something that unchangeable and condemns so-called reparative therapy peddled by "ex-gay ministries" and unethical therapist who are either out to make a quick buck off of religiously tormented gays and/or their families.  These "ministries" always have what I call "ex-gays for pay"  who will claim that they have "changed" and are no longer homosexual.  It's usually the same small group of tortured self-loathing individuals who were losers in their lives, often falling into drug and alcohol abuse, who are willing to lie for money.  These sick individuals without exception blame their sexual orientation for their problems when, in truth, most of their psychological damage stems from religious brainwashing they received in childhood or from family rejection.  As noted many times on this blog, there are far more former "ex-gays" than those who continue to sell their souls and integrity to these foul ministries.  Now, PFOX, a totally Christofascist financed organization, has brought the ex-gay lie to Richmond, Virginia by placing a billboard sign - the image is above - next to busy I-95.  The billboard distorts actual scientific research as noted by the New York Daily News:

The nonprofit’s president is Greg Quinlan, who claims to be a former gay man who renounced his sexual identity in 1993. His group frequently touts their belief that homosexuality is not a biological trait, but an emotional disorder, according to Qinlan’s biography on PFOX’s website.

In a statement shared to PFOX’s blog, a spokesperson stood by their billboard and cited a Northwestern University Department Of Psychology study interpreted to show that if identical twins shared the same genes, they would either both be gay or not at all. The study’s author, J. Michael Bailey has even argued against PFOX’s intepretation in an interview with LGBT Science.
 If anyone has an emotional disorder, it is Quinlan who, like most ex-gays and Christofascists is pretty much lying whenever his lips/their are moving.  In a Playboy interview, Dan Savage summed these people up well.  Here are a few on target quotes:
Judaism, Christianity, Islam and almost every other faith have constantly tried to insert themselves between your genitals and your salvation, because then they can regulate and control you. Then you need them to intercede with God, so they target your junk and stigmatize your sexual desire. If you have somebody by the balls or the ovaries, you’ve got them.

Look at Marcus Bachmann, Michele Bachmann’s husband. Anybody who has gaydar—anybody who has eyes—looks at him and sees a tormented closet case who has externalized his internal conflict and is abusing other people, doing his reparative-therapy bullshit. It’s so sad and pathetic. A lot of the self-destructive behaviors gay people are prone to drifting into are directed inward, and then you have these shitbags like Marcus Bachmann for whom it’s all directed outward. Marcus Bachmann is the photo negative of the guy on the last bar stool in the gay bar, drinking and smoking himself to death, except instead of destroying himself, he’s destroying other vulnerable queer people in an effort to destroy the queer inside himself.

You can’t beat the gay out of a kid, but you can kill that gay kid trying. One result is that once you’ve assembled yourself to appease your sports-obsessed father, to fool your peers, your girlfriend…once you put that together, it creates a cognitive bifurcation. The pride you take when you do fool people, when you put together this bullshit version, this Potemkin kid who isn’t you, and people buy it and you’re like, Oh wow—there’s power in that. There was for me. But some kids are crushed by it. The guys I knew who were self- or otherwise destructive were guys who believed they were terrible, that there was something wrong with them. The guys who were healthier believed there was something wrong with everybody else. I was that guy. I thought, I’m fine. My church is crazy. My parents are crazy. Everyone in my Catholic grade school is crazy. Everyone in this neighborhood I live in is fucking nuts. But I’m fine.

[W]hen I realized I was gay, it brought me into conflict with what my church was telling me. I didn’t just move two steps over and find the affirming Lutherans. I looked at the whole religion racket and it kind of fell apart, especially when I saw how much it was torturing gay kids.
As always, Savage holds no punches and the entire interview deserves a read.  Unlike Savage, I did "just move two steps over" and became a Lutheran after belatedly coming out in mid-life, although now I am more of a mindset that religion - even gay friendly faiths - is a racket.  If you want "fellowship" join the Moose Club, a country club, a yacht club or even a non-church affiliated charity group (it'd probably be cheaper!).  As for helping the sick, poor and the hungry, I say do that rather than build huge church buildings and related complexes that only serve members of the church "club."

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Thursday Morning Male Beauty

Jeb Bush - Damaged Goods for the GOP?

Yesterday, deranged self-loathing closet case Rick Santorm announced that he will be running for president in 2016.  He's but the latest in a list of clown car candidates that seek to be the GOP standard bearer in 2016.  Given the lunacy of the GOP candidate field, it is perhaps no wonder that some in the so-called GOP establishment would like to have Jeb Bush as the GOP presidential nominee.  At least the man isn't outright insane.  But, as a piece in Salon suggests, Bush may not be the squeaky clean candidate that some think he is.  Here are some article highlights:

Whenever the deep thinkers of the Republican establishment glance at their bulging clown car of presidential hopefuls — with out-there Dr. Ben Carson, exorcist Bobby Jindal, loudmouth Chris Christie and bankruptcy expert Donald Trump jammed against Sens. Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, to name a few — they inevitably start chattering about “Jeb Bush.”

Never mind that his father was a one-term wonder of no great distinction or that his brother is already a serious contender, in the eyes of historians, for worst president of the past 100 years. And never mind that on the issues most controversial among party activists — immigration and Common Core educational standards — he is an accursed “moderate.”

Lacking any especially attractive alternative, powerful Republicans are pushing Bush to run in 2016.

Bush, a politician who has been around for more than 20 years, is so little-known to the American public. Most voters are ignorant about Bush’s record in Florida, where he was an exceptionally right-wing governor. They either don’t know or don’t remember, for example, how he signed a statute enabling him to intervene in the case of Terri Schiavo, a woman in a persistent vegetative state, despite her husband’s wishes. Florida’s highest court later voided that law as unconstitutional — and the conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court likewise rejected an appeal.

If Bush runs, extremism and corruption in the Sunshine State during his tenure will provide ample fodder for investigative reporters and primary opponents, as will many episodes in his long business career.

Five months after he left the governor’s mansion in 2007, he joined Lehman Brothers as a “consultant.” No doubt he was well-compensated, as reporters may learn if and when he releases his tax returns someday. The following year, Lehman infamously went bust — and left the state of Florida holding about $1 billion worth of bad mortgage investments.  

There are many equally fascinating chapters in the Jeb dossier, rooted in his declaration three decades ago that he intended to become “very wealthy” as a developer and, yes, a “consultant.” His partners back then included a certain Miguel Recarey, whose International Medical Centers allegedly perpetrated one of history’s biggest Medicare frauds. . . . . . Indicted by the feds, Recarey fled the country — but not before Jeb placed a call on his behalf to his presidential dad’s health and human services secretary, Margaret Heckler. For serving as the flunky of a crook, he received a generous tip of $75,000 from Recarey, a mob associate.

He performed a similar service, with more success, on behalf of the Cuban militant Orlando Bosch, for whom he sought a presidential pardon from his father. The boastful murderer of dozens of innocent people — and a prosecution target of the U.S. Justice Department — Bosch deserved a pardon about as much as the worst jihadi in Gitmo. But his sponsors were the same Cuban-Americans in Miami who had fostered Jeb’s real estate business there, so he ignored the Republican attorney general’s denunciation of Bosch as an “unreformed terrorist.”

If Jeb runs for president, it will be fascinating to see whether the mainstream press, which vetted his brother George W. so inadequately during the 2000 presidential race, performs any better this time. But one way or another, American voters are going to learn much more about front-runner Jeb than they know — or remember — today.

Rolling Stone UVA Rape Story Unravels Further

According to a new Washington Post story, the claims of an alleged rape victim as recounted in a Rolling Stone article last month seemingly have unraveled further as students (and friends) of the alleged victim raise additional doubts.  The story increasingly looks like another hoax like the Duke lacrosse fiasco some years back.  Here are some excerpts from this latest story:
[T]hree students —“Randall,” “Andy” and “Cindy,” as they were identified in an explosive Rolling Stone account — told The Washington Post that they found their friend in tears. Jackie appeared traumatized, saying her date ended horrifically, with the older student parking his car at his fraternity, asking her to come inside and then forcing her to perform oral sex on five men.

In their first interviews about the events of that September 2012 night, the three friends separately told The Post that their recollections of the encounter diverge from how Rolling Stone portrayed the incident in a story about Jackie’s alleged gang rape at a U-Va. fraternity. The interviews also provide a richer account of Jackie’s interactions immediately after the alleged attack and suggest that the friends are skeptical of her account.

The scene with her friends was pivotal in the article, as it alleged that the friends were callously apathetic about a beaten, bloodied, injured classmate reporting a brutal gang rape at the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity.  . . . . “It didn’t happen that way at all,” Andy said.

[T]he friends remember being shocked. Although they did not notice any blood or visible injuries, they said they immediately urged Jackie to speak to police and insisted that they find her help. Instead, they said, Jackie declined and asked to be taken back to her dorm room. 

They said there are mounting inconsistencies with the original narrative in the magazine. The students also expressed suspicions about Jackie’s allegations from that night. They said the name she provided as that of her date did not match anyone at the university, and U-Va. officials confirmed to The Post that no one by that name has attended the school.

Also, photographs that were texted to one of the friends showing her date that night were actually pictures depicting one of Jackie’s high school classmates in Northern Virginia. That man, now a junior at a university in another state, confirmed that the photographs were of him and said he barely knew Jackie and hasn’t been to Charlottesville for at least six years.

The friends said they were never contacted or interviewed by the pop culture magazine’s reporters or editors.

The article’s writer, Sabrina Rubin Erdely, did not respond to requests for comment this week.  Rolling Stone also declined to comment, citing an internal review of the story. The magazine has apologized for inaccuracies and discrepancies in the published report.

Curious about Jackie’s date, the friends said that they tried to find the student on a U-Va. database and social media but failed. Andy, Cindy and Randall all said they never met the student in person. Before Jackie’s date, the friends became suspicious that perhaps they hadn’t really been in contact with the chemistry student at all, they said.

U-Va. officials told The Post that no student with the name Jackie provided to her friends as her date and attacker in 2012 had ever enrolled at the university.
Whatever the agenda of "Jackie" and Sabrina Rubin Erdely, they have done nothing to help legitimate victims f sexual assault. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

More Wednesday Male Beauty

Are International Legal Cases Against Torture Participants Coming?

As noted in one of the last posts uploaded yesterday, under the UN Convention on Torture, if the United States fails to prosecute American torture participants, then other countries can launch prosecutions and the United States will have to either allow the defendants to be extradited or find itself further outside the bounds of international law.  Think Progress has a piece that looks at the question of whether international prosecutions are in the offing.  It's probably safe to say that George W. Bush and Dick Cheney won't be traveling outside the USA any time soon.  Here are article highlights:
New evidence might bring new legal cases against American officials involved in the Central Intelligence Agency’s “enhanced interrogation” program after the release of previously classified information on Tuesday. The Senate Intelligence Committee’s 525-page report report which details the “brutal” interrogations of 39 detainees has spurred calls for prosecution from the U.N., as well as human rights’ and civil liberties organizations. 

“We made mistakes,” C.I.A. director John Brennan said in a statement, but he maintained that his agency’s policies were legal. 

But Ben Emmerson, the United Nations’ special rapporteur on counter terrorism and human rights doesn’t think official authorization from agencies within the U.S. frees those who carried out torture from facing justice. 

“The fact that the policies revealed in this report were authorized at a high level within the U.S. government provides no excuse whatsoever,” Emmerson said in a statement. “Indeed, it reinforces the need for criminal accountability.” 

He added that as a signatory to the U.N. Convention Against Torture, the U.S. is legally obligated to prosecute acts of torture and enforced disappearance if there is sufficient evidence to to bring about a case.

International law does not permit individuals who carried out torture to dismiss liability because they were acting on orders. And, Emmerson said, “States are not free to maintain or permit impunity for these grave crimes.”

“Other countries have all the information they need should they wish to exercise universal jurisdiction and prosecute these officials should they appear in their borders,” Andrea Prasow of Human Rights Watch said.

Universal jurisdiction is a legal doctrine that allows the courts of any country to try certain crimes against humanity including torture regardless of where those crimes took place or who is alleged to have committed them. It stems from a 1998 case brought by a Spanish court against the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet for the murder and torture of opposition figures. 

Some organizations that have already invoked this principle and are planning to use this new release of information to build their case against American officials.

In a fact sheet, the ACLU notes that there are a number of U.S. laws that could be invoked to hold those accused of torture responsible including the federal torture statute that criminalizes the infliction of severe physical or mental suffering with intent outside of the U.S. 

The group points out that while some of the alleged crimes occurred more than a decade ago, “There is no statute of limitations under the torture statute when the abuse risked or resulted in serious physical injury or death.”

Same-Sex Couples Divorcing Much Less Than Straight Couples

Remember how the Christofascist claimed that gays will "destroy marriage"?  Yet another study reveals that the real threat to marriage comes from straight couples.  Just as evangelical Christians in the Bible Belt have the highest divorce rate (Massachusetts, the first state to have same-sex marriage, has the lowest divorce rate in the country), straight couples are divorcing at a higher rate than same sex-couples.  The Williams Institute at University of California (Los Angeles) School of Law studied the rate of marriage and divorce of same-sex couples in the year since the Supreme Court struck down part of Defense of Marriage Act in 2013 and found that the divorce rate for gays was half that of their straight counterparts.  Here are highlights from The New Civil Rights Movement:
A major finding reveals that currently, same-sex couples are about half as likely to divorce as different-sex couples. And same-sex couples married at a rate about double in 2013 versus in 2102.
Married same-sex couples are divorcing at a 1.1 percent rate, compared to a 2 percent rate of different-sex couples, the Williams Institute notes.

"In early 2014, the Williams Institute collected administrative data on marriages, civil unions, and domestic partnerships of same-sex couples in the 23 states that offered these statuses at the time data collection began," the study finds. "Two states provided data on divorces: New Hampshire and Vermont. Six states provided data on civil union and domestic partnership terminations: California, D.C, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Washington, and Wisconsin."

The Williams Institute also found differences in female same-sex couples versus male same-sex couples.

"The first analysis shows that female couples are more likely to formalize their relationships than male couples. Female couples account for just over half (51%) of all same-sex couples in the U.S. However, data from the state agencies show that 64% of same-sex couples who entered into legal statuses were female couples."

The study also finds that the SCOTUS decision last summer greatly impacted the decision to marry, even in couples who lived in marriage equality states.  Calling it "the Windsor effect," they note that the "data show that the number of same-sex couples who married nearly doubled in marriage equality states from 2012 to 2013."

Wednesday Morning Male Beauty

Kansas Republican Promises To Pass Anti-Gay "Religious Freedom" Bill

In a move that will likely be repeated around the country by anti-gay Republicans - I suspect here in Virginia The Family Foundation will find willing GOP political whores to introduce such a bill - Michigan has passed a bill that would allow "godly Christians" to discriminate against gays based on "religious belief."  Now, a Christofascist Republican in Kansas is promising to introduce a similar bill.  Just like Bush and Cheney who authorized torture and war crimes, the "godly folk" believe that they are above the laws that bind the rest of us.  The New Civil Rights Movement looks at this effort.  Here are excerpts:
The "Protecting religious freedom regarding marriage" bill, also known as the "religious freedom bill," passed in the Kansas House in February by a strong margin, 72-49. It died in the Senate. But now, Rep. Steve Brunk is promising to bring it back and pass it.  "This is an ongoing conversation," Brunk told KWCH. "We're working on the best way to protect Kansan's first amendment rights."

Brunk may change some of the bill's text, but the title alone should make every LGBT person in Kansas, their supporters, and supporters of true religious freedom, concerned.

As it stands now, here's how the bill could impact a same-sex couple:

Say John and Steve are legally married in New York, and John gets a great job at a company in Kansas. The couple decide to move – perhaps John was raised in Kansas – and so they pack their things and head to the Sunflower State. The couple want to rent a hotel, but the manager of the hotel they drive to refuses them a room, claiming his company has sincerely held religious beliefs against same-sex marriage. After searching for another hotel, the couple check in. They go to a restaurant, but are refused service because the waitress sees them holding hands and claims she has sincerely held religious beliefs against same-sex marriage.

The couple need to rent a home, but the real estate broker when the two pull up for an appointment claims he has sincerely held religious beliefs, so the couple are forced to find another agent. Once they do, the company that owns the apartment building says they won't rent to a same-sex couple, because of their sincerely held religious beliefs. Let's not forget that John and Steve have already quit their jobs and packed their belongings. Kansas is starting to look pretty unfriendly.

As it passed the House, the "Protecting religious freedom regarding marriage" bill allows any "individual or religious entity" to deny services to anyone "if it would be contrary to the sincerely held religious beliefs of the individual or religious entity regarding sex or gender."

The definition of a "religious entity" in the bill is broad, so, not just churches or synagogues or mosques, etc., but any "privately-held business operating consistently with its sincerely held religious beliefs."

Think of it as a Hobby Lobby-type bill against same-sex marriage.

Specifically, it states, no governmental entity, or law, could require them to "[p]rovide any services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods, or privileges; provide counseling, adoption, foster care and other social services; or provide employment or employment benefits, related to, or related to the celebration of, any marriage, domestic partnership, civil union or similar arrangement."

Here Come the War Crime Apologists

It's no surprise that many on the far right are falling all over themselves to defend the criminal use of torture revealed by the Senate torture report released yesterday.  I'm sure many of them, had they been in Nazi Germany in the period 1938 - 1945 would have found justification for the countless horrors the Nazi regime inflicted on millions.  The numbers of victims involved in the Bush/Cheney torture program may be smaller by far than what Hitler oversaw, but torturing smaller numbers doesn't somehow make it acceptable or any less criminal under international law.  As noted previously, it is no wonder Republicans did not want this report to see the light of day because through Bush and Cheney they own it.  A column in the New York Times looks at the efforts of the war crimes apologists.  Here are excerpts:
The publication today [yesterday] of a censored summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation into the use of torture at C.I.A. prisons has brought war-crime apologists out from under their rocks.

Chief among them is former Vice President Dick Cheney, one of the all-time great prisoner abuse enthusiasts. Even before the report was issued, Mr. Cheney was telling The New York Times on Monday that torturing prisoners was absolutely the right thing to do and that everything the C.I.A. did was authorized.

“What I keep hearing out there is they portray this as a rogue operation, and the agency was way out of bounds and then they lied about it,” Mr. Cheney said in a telephone interview. “I think that’s all a bunch of hooey. The program was authorized. The agency did not want to proceed without authorization, and it was also reviewed legally by the Justice Department before they undertook the program.”

Representative Mike Rogers, Republican of Michigan, said releasing the report was a “terrible idea,” because it would put Americans in danger. “Our own intelligence community has assessed that this will cause violence and deaths,” he said, conveniently ignoring that it’s in the intelligence community’s interest to make such a prediction.

Mr. Rogers is chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, which has done absolutely nothing to shed light on this dismal chapter in American history. It’s specious to argue that transparency about torture, rather than torture itself, is to blame for any future retaliation.

Let’s be clear, the acts committed against the C.I.A.’s prisoners — no matter how murderous and awful some of those prisoners were — were disgusting and inexcusable. They violated all kinds of American and international laws against torture.

“The truth is sometimes a hard pill to swallow,” he [John McCain] said. “The American people are entitled to it nonetheless. They must be able to make judgments about whether these policies and personnel who supported them were justified in compromising our values.”

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Quote of the Day: Will America Comply With the UN Convention on Torture?

Cheney - the real architect of the torture regime?
Perhaps I have beat to death the issue of American sponsored torture, but to me it gets to the heart of the problem with today's far right American conservatives and the Christofascists: they have no compassion for those who are different, especially in matters of race and religion, and they believe that they are wholly above the law.  Today's release of the Senate torture report now places America at the cross roads of either complying with the law - actually a treaty that it signed - or becoming in essence a rogue nation.  Andrew Sullivan quoting Ronald Reagan sums it up well:
“The United States participated actively and effectively in the negotiation of [this] Convention. It marks a significant step in the development during this century of international measures against torture and other inhuman treatment or punishment. Ratification of the Convention by the United States will clearly express United States opposition to torture, an abhorrent practice unfortunately still prevalent in the world today.

The core provisions of the Convention establish a regime for international cooperation in the criminal prosecution of torturers relying on so-called ‘universal jurisdiction.’ Each State Party is required either to prosecute torturers who are found in its territory or to extradite them to other countries for prosecution,” – Ronald Reagan’s signing statement on the ratification of the UN Convention on Torture.

Allow me to repeat:
“Each State Party is required either to prosecute torturers who are found in its territory or to extradite them to other countries for prosecution.”
I guess all of a sudden the Christofascists and GOP crowd will claim amnesia on this part of Reagan legacy.

UN Human Rights Chief Calls for Prosecution of Torture Architects

German defendants at Nuremberg trials
The full executive summary of the Senate torture report can be found here (NOTE: many names and details are redacted).  Not surprisingly, some at the United Nations want the architects of the torture program prosecuted.  The Guardian has details:
The UN special rapporteur on counter terrorism and human rights, Ben Emmerson, has released a statement saying “It is now time to take action” and “The individuals responsible for the criminal conspiracy revealed in today’s report must be brought to justice.” The statement reads in part:

The summary of the report which was released this afternoon confirms what the international community has long believed - that there was a clear policy orchestrated at a high level within the Bush administration to commit systematic crimes and gross violations of international human rights law. The identities of the perpetrators, and many other details, have been redacted in the published summary report but are known to the Select Committee and to those who provided the Committee with information on the programme. It is now time to take action. 

The individuals responsible for the criminal conspiracy revealed in today’s report must be brought to justice, and must face criminal penalties commensurate with the gravity of their crimes. The fact that the policies revealed in this report were authorised at a high level within the US Government provides no excuse whatsoever. Indeed, it reinforces the need for criminal accountability. 

International law prohibits the granting of immunities to public officials who have engaged in acts of torture. This applies not only to the actual perpetrators but also to those senior officials within the US Government who devised, planned and authorised these crimes. As a matter of international law, the US is legally obliged to bring those responsible to justice.
Note: under international law and treaties to which the United States is a signatory, Barack Obama has NO legal authority to either (i) refuse to prosecute the offenders or (ii) grant pardons to such criminals. 

If one looks at the Nuremberg trials, here is what happened to Ernst Kaltenbrunner, the highest ranking SS leader to be tried at Nuremberg.  -  Hanged 16 October 1946.

The Senate Torture Report - Obama Should Prosecute Bush and Cheny for War Crimes?

The release of the Senate "torture report" today confirmed the worse fears of many - the United States with authorization engaged in torture and committed acts which read like something right out of the narratives about Nazi torture techniques and atrocities.  Since all of this occurred under the foul Bush/Cheney regime, it is no surprise that Congressional Republicans - many of whom rubber stamped everything Bush/Cheney did  - did not want to have this report see the light of day.  The bottom line: any moral standing that America may have had in the world is now gone and murderous foreign despots can throw back in our diplomats' faces the activities on American authorities should criticisms be made of foreign atrocities.  The only way to avoid this is for America - and by this I mean Barack Obama and the Justice Department - to live up to its obligations under the UN Convention on Torture.  These would mean that either America prosecutes George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and a number of their minions, or they extradited and turned over to other nations for prosecution.  Mother Jones provides a taste of the horrors done in the name of the American people:

On Tuesday morning, the Senate intelligence committee released an executive summary of its years-long investigation into the CIA's detention and interrogation program. President George W. Bush authorized the so-called "enhanced interrogation" program after the 9/11 attacks. The United States government this week has warned personnel in facilities abroad, including US embassies, to be ready in case protests erupt in response.

The full report includes over 6,000 pages and 35,000 footnotes. You can read the executive summary here. Here are some of the lowlights:

1. The CIA used previously unreported tactics, including "rectal feeding" of detainees (p. 100, footnote 584):
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2. CIA officers threatened the children of detainees (p. 4):
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3. Over 20 percent of CIA detainees were "wrongfully held." One was an "intellectually challenged" man who was held so the CIA could get leverage over his family (p. 12)

4. One detainee, Abu Hudhaifa, was subjected to "ice water baths" and "66 hours of standing sleep deprivation" before being released because the CIA realized it probably had the wrong man.

5. The CIA, contrary to what it told Congress, began torturing detainees before even determining whether they would cooperate.

6. CIA officers began torturing Khalid Sheikh Mohammed "a few minutes" after beginning to question him (p. 108):
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9. In 2003, Bush gave a speech at a UN event condemning torture and calling on other nations to investigate and prosecute torture allegations. The statement was so at odds with US practices that the CIA contacted the White House to make sure enhanced interrogation techniques were still okay (pp. 209-210).

14. Bush Justice Department official Jay Bybee, who is now a federal judge, told Congress the torture of Al Qaeda detainees led to the US capture of Jose Padilla. That wasn't true.

16. Even President George W. Bush wasn't informed where the facilities were—because he feared he'd "accidentally disclose" the information.
The Daily Beast has additional details.  Here are excerpts:
Interrogations that lasted for days on end. Detainees forced to stand on broken legs, or go 180 hours in a row without sleep. A prison so cold, one suspect essentially froze to death. The Senate Intelligence Committee is finally releasing its review of the CIA’s detention and interrogation programs. And it is brutal.

Here are some of the most gruesome moments of detainee abuse from a summary of the report, obtained by The Daily Beast:

Well Worn Waterboards.  The CIA has previously said that only three detainees were ever waterboarded: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Abu Zubaydah, and Abd Al Rahim al-Nashiri. But records uncovered by the Senate Intelligence Committee suggest there may have been more than three subjects. The Senate report describes a photograph of a “well worn” waterboard, surrounded by buckets of water, at a detention site where the CIA has claimed it never subjected a detainee to this procedure. In a meeting with the CIA in 2013, the agency was not able to explain the presence of this waterboard.

Near Drowning.  Contrary to CIA’s description to the Department of Justice, the Senate report says that the waterboarding was physically harmful, leading to convulsions and vomiting. During one session, detainee Abu Zubaydah became “completely unresponsive with bubbles rising through his open full mouth.” Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded at least 183 times, which the Senate report describes as escalating into a “series of near drownings.”

Standing on Broken Legs.  In November 2002, a detainee who had been held partially nude and chained to the floor died, apparently from hypothermia. This case appears similar to the that of Gul Rahman, who died of similarly explained causes at an Afghan site known as the “Salt Pit,” also in November 2002. The site was also called “The Dark Prison” by former captives.

Forced Rectal Feeding and WorseAt least five detainees were subjected to “rectal feeding” or “rectal hydration,” without any documented medical need. “While IV infusion is safe and effective,” one officer wrote, rectal hydration could be used as a form of behavior control.

Others were deprived of sleep, which could involve staying awake for as long as 180 hours—sometimes standing, sometimes with their hands shackled above their heads.

Some detainees were forced to walk around naked, or shackled with their hands above their heads. In other instances, naked detainees were hooded and dragged up and down corridors while subject to physical abuse.

Sexual Assault by InterrogatorsOfficers in the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program included individuals who the committee said, “among other things, had engaged in inappropriate detainee interrogations, had workplace anger management issues, and had reportedly admitted to sexual assault.”


Meet the Russian Gay Couple Who Got Married in Spite of Vladimir Putin

Last month I wrote a post about a Russian gay couple who got married in St. Petersburg, Russia, despite Russia's anti-gay jihad.  I first heard of the marriage via a young Russian LGBT activist friend who attended the wedding.  Now, Gay Star News has more details on how the couple - one is transgender - to circumvent Russia's anti-gay laws.  Here are highlights followed by a video clip (my friend can be seen briefly in the film):
A Russian gay couple who married in the fiercest way possible has reflected on their wedding and the consequences it could have the country.

Alyona Furvosa and Irina Shumilova married, both in stunning white gowns, in front of family and friends at a St Petersburg registry office last month.

The trans woman and her cisgender bride were allowed to marry through a loophole, with the city technically viewing the union as a heterosexual marriage.

'To be honest, it's scary and uncomfortable, because we don't know what to expect in the future,' Fursova told CNN this week.

'We can get married now because I have female documents and and Irina has male ones. But already we've heard that government officials are preparing a law to forbid this.'

St. Petersburg MP Vitaly Milonov, a vocal opponent of gay rights, has called the union an 'ugly insult to millions of Russian families' and vowed to pursue an investigation into its legality.  Milonov was the author of the city's 'gay propaganda' ban, the law that inspired the nationwide legislation.

But as Russia seems to have stalted, the married couple hope they will serve as an inspiration to the LGBTI community in their country and across the world.

'I really hope it helps people to understand that if they fight for their rights, they can get them,' Furvosa added.

Tuesday Morning Male Beauty

CIA Torturers Running Scared - Karma Can Be a Bitch

Funny how perspectives change when one ceases being the torturer and suddenly realizes that the day of reckoning for past crimes may be just around the corner. Oh, and don't try to say one was just following orders.  Nazi officials tried that one and it rightfully did not work.  Each of us at times has to decide whether we will commit moral wrongs or not.  Sometimes, the easier course is to "follow orders," but that doesn't make what you do morally right.  A piece in The Daily Beast looks at CIA operative who now fear the day of reckoning may be at hand.  Here are excerpts:
The CIA has offered to perform security assessments for former intelligence officers that may be identified in the so-called Senate torture report, expected to be released Tuesday.

Most of these officers are not identified by their real names in the report, which was drawn up by the Democrats of the Senate Intelligence Committee. But the CIA remains concerned that close readers will be able to figure out, based on cross-referencing and context clues, who the anonymous officers are. (Some very senior and well-known officials will be mentioned by name in the report.)

Current and former CIA personnel say they are fearful for their personal safety, and that of their families, should they be identified after the report is released and become targets for harassment or retribution. So the agency has agreed to determine their degree of exposure to any risk of identification, according to one senior intelligence official who spoke anonymously because he was not authorized to speak publicly. “They will help people assess their individual situations, assessing their homes, and helping them keep a low profile,” the official told The Daily Beast.

Roughly 15 agency employees were directly involved in running the program, . . . 

Separately, a lawmaker said the CIA had briefed him on the possible need for “personnel moves” related to the security fallout from the interrogation report. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the security preparations publicly.

The CIA has long been concerned that if any of its personnel were identified following the release of the report, which details interrogation techniques President Obama has called torture, it could jeopardize employees’ physical safety and make it impossible for them to work overseas. 

There's more, so read the entire piece. The hypocrisy of many now worried about the report's release had no qualms about engaging in torture and ignoring the Geneva Conventions at the time.  Perhaps they should have thought more about the crimes they were committing at the time.