Saturday, December 26, 2015

Fraudulent "Gay Conversion Therapy" Group to Shut Down

While the Roman Catholic Church and a host of fraudulent "ministries" run by anti-gay religious affiliated organizations continue to peddle the myth that gays can "change," after losing a consumer fraud case this past summer, Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing ("JONAH") will be closing its doors permanently.  Would that similar lawsuits would be brought against similar charlatan run organizations.  One irony is that the founder of JONAH is a former felon who did prison time for securities fraud.  He went from one form of fraud to another, having discovered that money could be made by preying on religiously conflicted gays and their desperate families.  Mother Jones looks at the demise of this foul operation.  Here are article highlights:
A so-called "gay conversion therapy" group in New Jersey has agreed to permanently close its doors after losing a landmark court battle this summer.

As Mother Jones reported, a jury determined in June that Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing, or JONAH, had violated state consumer fraud law by claiming it could help change clients' sexual orientations from gay to straight. It was the first case in the nation to challenge conversion therapy as consumer fraud.

Judge Peter F. Bariso Jr. granted a permanent injunction after both sides reached a settlement requiring JONAH to cease operations, permanently dissolve as a corporate entity, and liquidate all its assets.

"The end of JONAH signals that conversion therapy, however packaged, is fraudulent—plain and simple," David Dinielli, deputy legal director for the Southern Poverty Law Center, said in a statement. The center filed the lawsuit on behalf of the plaintiffs.

Michael Ferguson, one of the plaintiffs, added, "Gay conversion therapy stole years from my life, and nearly stole my life. My hope is that others can be spared the unneeded harm that comes from the lies the defendants and those like them spread."

Conversion therapy has been rejected by major health organizations, including the American Psychiatric Association, which in 1973 removed homosexuality from the list of disorders in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Last year, a transgender teen committed suicide in Ohio after participating in conversion therapy, inspiring a campaign for a federal ban on the practice. New Jersey, California, and Washington, DC, have laws banning licensed conversion therapists from working with minors.

In a pretrial decision in February, Judge Bariso wrote, "The theory that homosexuality is a disorder is not novel—but like the notion that the earth is flat and the sun revolves around it—instead is outdated and refuted."

Saturday Male Beauty

Oklahoma, Another GOP Failure: Earthquakes and a Looming Budget

Embattled homphobic Oklahoma Gov. Fallin
As noted in a number of posts on this blog, Kansas, where Republicans were going to implement their dream of slashing taxes - especially for the wealthy and businesses - turned out to be a fiscal disaster and but for pounding the anti-gay marriage drum and prostituting himself even more thoroughly to the Christofascists in the GOP base, Sam Bownback might have lost his re-election bid.  Brownback's neighbor to the south, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin (R) is similarly facing a fiscal debacle.  Added to Fallin's dilemma is the rapidly rising number of earthquakes hitting the state due to unfettered fracking and secondary and tertiary practices of the oil industry.  Even her strident anti-gay animus may not be enough to save her political capital.  A piece in Politico looks at another red state where things are going very wrong.  Here are excerpts:

A few days after Thanksgiving, Oklahoma City residents huddled in their homes watching a thick layer of ice snap power lines and split stubby trees. Only a few days later, as the ice started to thaw and power was restored in most neighborhoods, a 4.7-magnitude earthquake shook the state a couple hours before dawn.

The epicenter was 100 miles north, in a region where oil and gas have for decades driven the state economy. Scientists suspect the practice of injecting deep into the earth the salty wastewater from the drilling process may be causing the earthquakes, or at least increasing the frequency. 

Prior to 2009, the state had just two quakes per year. Now on average, quakes shake the state twice a day, more than anywhere in the lower 48 states, a fact that is stoking outrage among residents who are growing tired of worrying about the foundations of their homes and whether to buy earthquake insurance. The quakes are an unwelcome byproduct of the oil and gas industry, but they are also a powerful metaphor for a looming fiscal crisis driven by falling fuel prices.

When the Legislature convenes at the beginning of February, it will face a projected budget shortfall of at least $900 million. . . . . The state already absorbed a $611 million budget shortfall last year, so the shock waves from coming cuts will likely be felt even in corners of the state the floor-shaking tremors don’t reach.  Some school systems are considering four-day weeks to save money. Prisons may have to cut half their guards. The state’s health care authority may have to continue to reduce payments to Medicare providers. 

None of this is welcome news for Gov. Mary Fallin, who was elected to her second term with 56 percent of the vote in November 2014 and has been flirting with a larger national profile. 

Oil has dropped 70 percent since 2008 and natural gas prices are at 14-year lows.  . . . “Oklahoma has done a great job of diversifying its economy, but energy is still one of its top industries. Unfortunately, President Obama’s anti-oil and -gas policies have caused financial distress across all states with abundant energy resources,” Fallin said.

But if Obama is unpopular in this deeply red state, Fallin’s stock is not much better. She currently ranks last in favorability among Oklahoma’s current and most well-known statewide elected officials, according to recent survey by Sooner Poll, an independent nonpartisan polling firm in the state.  “In a state with a crisis like this, and the executive and legislative branches doing nothing to address it, it’s really not a case to put her on the ticket,” Gaddie said. 

Though Oklahoma’s deep reliance on its energy economy may have delayed acceptance of the science linking injection wells and earthquakes, “only a hardcore conservative in denial could argue there’s no link,” Gaddie explained. “It’s a scientific issue that’s also politicized, but now the science has pretty much prevailed over the politics.”

The question is what to do about the problem. Pressure is mounting to shut down the wastewater wells, or at least limit the volume pumped into them. But the oil and gas industry fears that will only hurt their already bruised bottom line.

To add to the state’s woes, a report this month by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis shows Oklahoma posted the worst performance among all states over the past quarter. That’s scarier than any earthquake and raises a question for Republican lawmakers: Will Oklahoma have to follow in the footsteps of Kansas and reluctantly raise taxes? 

Critics say the problem is Oklahoma’s tax cuts are not triggered by an increase in actual revenue -- just projections. So in 2016, the state’s top income tax rate will fall from 5.25 percent to 5 percent, in spite of Oklahoma’s revenue shortfall. 

State officials can’t claim they weren’t warned. Treasurer Ken Miller has been trying to raise the fiscal alarm since taking office in 2011. 

A bigger problem, he said, is that lawmakers never learned to how to live with less.  More than $1 billion in non-recurring revenue has been used to fill budget holes during the past five years. Using such large amounts of alternative revenues to prop up the state budget is an admission by policymakers that they don’t have enough money to spend as they please, Miller said. 

What is frightening is that Oklahoma has practiced the voodoo economics lauded by every member of the GOP 2016 presidential nominee clown car.   Thirty five years of experience has shown that the GOP economic model does not work long term  Yet no one in the party is willing to face this reality.

Christianity Is Dying in America

As the caption of this post notes and a number of surveys on religion have documented, Christianity is dying in America.  And a leading cause in the decline in religion, especially with the younger generations, is the "godly Christians" themselves  as they daily show Christianity - or at least their toxic version of it - to be principally about hate and division.  True, there are other causes, including scientific progress that undermines the myths set out in the Bible, yet the godly folk refuse to look in the mirror at themselves or changing demographics since it is far easier to blame gays, liberals and "secular humanist" who are alleged to be at war against Christianity.  A piece  The Daily Beast looks at Christianity's much deserved decline and the Christofascists' efforts to deflect blame on to others.   Here are highlights:
Among the Christian Right, and most Republican presidential candidates, it’s now an article of faith that the United States is persecuting Christians and Christian-owned businesses—that religion itself is under attack.   “We have seen a war on faith,” Ted Cruz has said to pick one example.

Why has this bizarre myth that Christianity is under assault in the most religious developed country on Earth been so successful? Because, in a way, it’s true. American Christianity is in decline—not because of a “war on faith” but because of a host of demographic and social trends. The gays and liberals are just scapegoats.

The idea that Christians are being persecuted resonates with millennia-old self-conceptions of Christian martyrdom. Even when the church controlled half the wealth in Europe, it styled itself as the flock of the poor and the marginalized. Whether true or not as a matter of fact, it is absolutely true as a matter of myth. 

[T]he percentage of the U.S. population that identifies as Christian has dropped from 78.4 percent in 2007 to 70.6 percent in 2014. Evangelical, Catholic, and mainline Protestant affiliations have all declined.  Meanwhile, 30 percent of Americans ages 18-29 list “none” as their religious affiliation (the figure for all ages is about 23 percent). Nearly 40 percent of Americans who have married since 2010 report that they are in “religiously mixed” marriages, which means that many individuals who profess Christianity are in families where not everyone does. . . . . The Pew report noted Americans are also changing religions more than in the past, and when they do so, they are more likely to move away from Christianity than toward it.

But no one likes a “constellation of reasons” to explain why the world they grew up in, and the values they cherish, seem to be slipping away. Enter the scapegoat: the war on religion, and the persecution of Christianity.

It’s much easier to explain changes by referring to a single, malevolent cause than by having to understand a dozen complex demographic trends. Plus, if Christianity is declining because it’s being attacked, then that decline could be reversed if the attack were successfully repelled. Unlike what is actually happening—a slow, seemingly irrevocable decline in American Christianity—the right’s argument that “religious liberty” is under assault mixes truth and fantasy to provide a simpler, and more palatable, explanation for believers.

Take, as an example, Christmas. The weird idea that there is a “War on Christmas” orchestrated by liberal elites—Starbucks cups in hand—is, on its face, ridiculous, even if it is widely held on the right.

Unfortunately, even if the war on religion is fictive, the “defense” against it is very real and very harmful. This year alone, 17 states introduced legislation to protect “religious freedom” by exempting not just churches and religious organizations (including bogus ones set up to evade the law) from civil rights laws, domestic violence laws, even the Hippocratic Oath, but also but private individuals and for-profit businesses.

Meanwhile, the “war on religion” narrative appears to be gaining ground.. . . . . 61 percent of white evangelicals believe that religious liberty is being threatened today. (Only 37 percent of non-white Christians believe this, suggesting that what’s really happening is an erosion of white Christian hegemony; the “browning of America” goes hand in hand with the de-Christianizing of America.) They believe they have lost the culture war, and even that LGBT people should now pity them.

Christianity is, in a sense, losing the war—but the fighters on the other side aren’t gay activists or ACLU liberals but faceless social forces of secularization, urbanization, and diversification.

[M]ythic thinking creates a personification of evil who is fighting the war on religious liberty, the war on Christmas, the war on Christianity. These malevolent evildoers are like a contemporary Satan: a fictive embodiment of all of the chaotic, complex forces that threaten the stability of religious order.
Fundamentalist Christianity - and fundamentalist Islam - is a pervasive cause of evil and hatred.  The world would be a far better place if both simply disappeared from the face of the Earth.  For parasitic professional Christians, sleazy televangelists, and religious institutions obsessed with power and control over others (and the flow of money that these bring) , the decline of Christianity is terrifying.  Their free ride and ability to prey on the gullible is in decline and the money flow that enables them to live a comfortable live peddling myths and lies is threatened.  Expect the hysteria to increase as the decline continues and hopefully accelerates.

Missouri: Fewer Gun Restrictions and More Gun Killings

The NRA and its political whores love to say "guns don't kill, people do," yet a new study that has tracked the decline in gun restrictions in Missouri found that - as any rational person would expect - the easier it is to purchase guns, the more gun killings increase.   With deaths from gun violence now exceeding deaths from auto accidents an a number of states, it is simply ridiculous to pretend that lax gun controls don't increase gun violence and killings involving guns.  Watching the Today Show this morning while preparing for a family get together we were hosting, out of the "top stories from 2015," roughly 3/4th involved gun violence.  True, strict gun control laws might not have stopped all of the tragedies, but many of the perpetrators might very well have not been able to secure the guns that they used to create mayhem and death.  Here are highlights from a New York Times piece that looks at the lesson to be learned from Missouri's short sighted easing of gun restrictions:

In the past decade, Missouri has been a natural experiment in what happens when a state relaxes its gun control laws. For decades, it had one of the nation’s strongest measures to keep guns from dangerous people: a requirement that all handgun buyers get a gun permit by undergoing a background check in person at a sheriff’s office.

But the legislature repealed that in 2007 and approved a flurry of other changes, including, last year, lowering the legal age to carry a concealed gun to 19. What has followed may help answer a central question of the gun control debate: Does allowing people to more easily obtain guns make society safer or more dangerous?

[T]he Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, found that in the first six years after the state repealed the requirement for comprehensive background checks and purchase permits, the gun homicide rate was 16 percent higher than it was the six years before. During the same period, the national rate declined by 11 percent. After Professor Webster controlled for poverty and other factors that could influence the homicide rate, and took into account homicide rates in other states, the result was slightly higher, rising by 18 percent in Missouri.

Before the repeal, from 1999 to 2006, Missouri’s gun homicide rate was 13.8 percent higher than the national rate. From 2008 to 2014, it was 47 percent higher. (The new data also showed that the national death rate from guns was equal to that from motor vehicle crashes for the first time since the government began systematically tracking it.)

California, where the San Bernardino gun attacks happened, has some of the strictest laws in the country. But supporters say mass shootings, while attention-grabbing, account for fewer than 2 percent of the more than 30,000 gun deaths in the United States each year. They say tougher gun laws help reduce the slow, steady stream of killings that pile up quietly in communities like this one, often poor, often of color, and cut down on suicides, which make up two-thirds of all gun deaths in the United States.

In 1995 Connecticut enacted a law similar to the one Missouri repealed, and gun homicides declined by 40 percent in the 10 years that followed, he found.

Missouri began changing its gun laws after the Republican Party won control of the State House in 2002 for the first time in years.  . . . .The changes tapped into profound differences between rural and urban Americans about guns. The state legislature is predominantly white, rural and suburban, but the effects of the laws it makes are felt largely in Missouri’s cities, where gun homicides are one of the biggest causes of death for young black men.

“There is this idea that law-abiding citizens’ rights are being secured,” said Richard Rosenfeld, a professor of criminology at the University of Missouri, St. Louis. “In fact, it’s the people most inclined to do harm whose privileges are being secured.”

As Rosilyn Temple tells it, guns have become so prevalent in her Kansas City neighborhood that owning one is about as common as owning a cellphone. “You can’t buy liquor, but you can carry a gun,” she said, alluding to the legal age to obtain a concealed carry permit. The legal age to buy alcohol in Missouri is 21.

Of all the gun law changes, the one that most affected homicides was the repeal of the permit law requiring a background check at a sheriff’s office, Professor Webster argued. It had applied to any prospective gun buyer — even someone buying from a private seller.

Now permits are no longer required. Gun buyers must still pass background checks if they buy guns in stores, which send applicants’ personal information to the F.B.I. Gun control proponents say those checks are less rigorous than before, though gun rights supporters insist they are just as thorough. Buying from a private seller requires no check at all.

Guns also confer status. And because the repercussions for carrying them without the proper authorization are so minor, there is little risk in showing them off.  “The big thing used to be having a fancy car and driving it around,” Chief Dotson said. “Now, it’s having a pistol with extended magazine and posting pictures of it on Facebook.”
In this area, my view as that rednecks and poor whites who have to have a jacked up trucks and guns are trying to compensate for their small penis size.  A "bad ass" truck and a trove of guns do not make on a man regardless of what the NRA would have one believe.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Christmas Morning Male Beauty

Donald Trump and the Cult of White America

Even in today's Republican Party it is still unacceptable to openly support the Klu Klux Klan and overt white supremacy groups, but Donald Trump has seemingly formulate a campaign pitch that otherwise plays to the prejudices of such groups and white Americans terrified at losing their white privilege and/or ability to force their religious beliefs on all of society.  As a piece in Salon argues, Trump has become a cult leader for these objective-reality adverse people and plays upon their fears by blaming their misfortunes on those deemed as "other."  Trump also promises a return to "greatness" as the prize that he will deliver if elected.  It is very much the model used by Hitler and Mussolini to come to power in 1930's Germany and Italy.  It is very frightening to watch and the mindset of his followers borders on psychotic.  Here are column highlights:

Donald Trump is the front-runner in the 2016 Republican presidential primary raceHe leads his closest rival, Ted Cruz, by a substantial margin. Trump’s proto-fascism, xenophobia and bigotry are not anomalies or outliers. These values are held by a large percentage of Republicans.

Donald Trump validates these feelings. As such, it is now fundamentally clear that Donald Trump is a hero and leader for many conservatives in the Age of Obama. 

Most members of the pundit class have been befuddled by the ascendance of Donald Trump. But, there is one person who has solved this riddle.

In a little-discussed editorial written several weeks ago, Pat Buchanan offered the following analysis:
Enter The Donald:
His popularity is traceable to the fact that he rejects the moral authority of the media, breaks their commandments, and mocks their condemnations. His contempt for the norms of Political Correctness is daily on display.

And that large slice of America that detests a media whose public approval now rivals that of Congress, relishes this defiance. The last thing these folks want Trump to do is to apologize to the press.

And the media have played right into Trump’s hand. They constantly denounce him as grossly insensitive for what he has said about women, Mexicans, Muslims, McCain and a reporter with a disability. Such crimes against decency, says the press, disqualify Trump as a candidate for president.

And when they demand that Republicans repudiate him, the GOP base replies:  “Who are you to tell us whom we may nominate? You are not friends. You are not going to vote for us. And the names you call Trump — bigot, racist, xenophobe, sexist — are the names you call us, nothing but cuss words that a corrupt establishment uses on those it most detests.”
Pat Buchanan possesses gifted insight into powerful appeal of Donald Trump for the Republican base. Both men are nativist, xenophobic, right-wing populists who understand the allure of white alienation and racial resentment in the post civil rights era. Pat Buchanan is more of a “culture warrior” than Donald Trump. But like George Wallace in the 1960s, the Know-Nothings in the 19th century and the Black Legion in the 1930s, Buchanan and Trump are recent iterations in a long history of right-wing demagoguery and false populism in American politics.

All one has to do is listen to Donald Trump’s supporters (who are really none too different from the Republican base writ large) and how they make sense of the political and social world.
These people are divorced from reality. To listen to Donald Trump’s supporters is to peek into the mouth of political madness.

One of the main challenges that responsible members of the pundit classes are having in making sense of the Republican Party in the Age of Obama—and movement conservatism in the post civil rights era, more generally—is that they still possess some faith in the merits of political discourse as based on mutually agreed upon facts, proceeding in good faith, the Common Good, and a belief in some version of normal politics in the service of responsible governance.

Moreover, the commentariat has still not effectively grappled with how today’s brand of conservatism exhibits pre-Enlightenment era thinking, and uses what I (and others) have described as “the politics of disorientation” to confuse the American people through a coordinated campaign of outright lying and seductive disinformation.

Donald Trump is a proto-fascist. He buddies up with Russian President Vladimir Putin for credibility in his role as a new il-Duce, a petit Mussolini for 21st century American politics. Donald Trump is a classic “strong man” political figure. To that end, he encourages violence by his followers against political opponents and those identified as the Other or somehow weak. Nor does Donald Trump deny that he is a “racist” or “neo-fascist.”

Trump also brags about his “perfect health,” “high energy” and vitality. Here, the fit body and Trump’s egomaniacal narcissism are essential for his crafting the charismatic leader persona.
To understand Donald Trump’s appeal, one must seriously consider the possibility that his followers specifically, and movement conservatives and the Republican Party more generally, are exhibiting signs of political psychopathology.

Donald Trump’s — and the Republican Party’s — base of low information voters are not being grabbed off of the street by his agents. Trump is providing a safe space and outlet for conservatives to validate their preexisting racist, xenophobic and bigoted attitudes. Their true selves are being actualized and “liberated.”

The Republican 2016 presidential primary candidates are using a campaign of fear and anxiety about terrorism, “illegal immigrants,” changing racial demographics, “black crime” and “Islam” to gin up support among a frightened public. This is the Southern Strategy mixed with old-fashioned fear-mongering to win over the votes of scared, mostly older, white voters in a moment when a black man happens to be president of the United States. This tactic also leverages how the brain structures and political personal types of conservatives/authoritarians are much more responsive to anxiety, fear and feelings of disgust than those of liberals and progressives.

Contemporary conservatives exist within an echo chamber that has been created by Republican elites, Fox News, right-wing talk radio and other media. It has expanded to include online spaces. The worldview that is created there is one where basic facts about empirical reality are rejected, and the right-wing paranoid style of conspiracy theories and unfounded rumors have replaced substantive political discourse. 

Bursting the information cocoon of those people in a traditional religious cult or who are immersed in the right-wing media echo chamber is not an easy task. They will resist. In political psychology, this phenomenon is called the “backfire effect.” It offers a chilling insight into the impact of extreme political ideology, polarization and the right-wing media on its followers.

If Trump’s supporters—and movement conservatives en masse—are in fact exhibiting signs of political psychopathology, then the backfire effect is a powerful lens for understanding their behavior.
Donald Trump is a hero for the angry and resentful white “silent majority” and “Everyman” who feel that they are somehow marginalized in “their” country and that “the blacks,” immigrants, Muslims and terrorists are out to get them. Cults provide easy answers, direction and a feeling of belonging for their members. The cult leader offers a way for his or her devotees to feel better about themselves than they did before joining the community. This is not a form of healthy personal growth or behavior. In most cases, it is deleterious to the self. When such techniques are used in politics, on many millions of people, it is a form of mass psychosis.

Donald Trump is a carnival barker, proto-fascist reality TV show host turned Republican 2016 presidential primary leader. And he may also be a Svengali or Rasputin-like figure for the low information Republican base.