Saturday, September 02, 2017

More Saturday Male Beauty

Trump, Evangelicals, Hypocrisy and Moral Bankruptcy

Trump and scamvangelist Franklin Graham
A new Fox News poll showed that 56 percent of respondents said Trump was “not at all” presidential, 55 percent said he was “not at all” a moral leader, 53 percent said he was “not at all” compassionate or steady and 50 percent said he was “not at all” honest.  Yet one group continues to strongly support perhaps the most immoral individual to ever occupy the White House: evangelical Christians, a group defined by their self-claimed piety and hatred of others.  In addition to supporting Trump, these folks also strongly support the GOP's reverse Robin Hood agenda where the poor are robbed to benefit the rich and the social safety net is slashed. Indeed, their "values" bear little resemblance to the social gospel message of Christ and instead focus of selectively parsed Old Testament passages.   A column in the Washington Post looks at what I view as the warped, hypocrisy filled world of evangelicals. Here are excerpts:
Evangelical Christians voted for Donald Trump in overwhelming numbers. Evangelical support for the president remains relatively firm; indeed, even as others criticized the president’s remarks in the wake of Charlottesville, evangelical leaders rose to the president’s defense. All of this gets under the skin of President Trump’s critics, who cannot believe that men and women who think of themselves as godly can possibly stomach Trump’s behavior. For such critics, the only possible explanation for evangelicals’ continuing faith in Trump is some combination of ignorance and hypocrisy. Conversations with actual evangelical Christians at a recent gathering here — the Hillsboro Family Camp, where families have met annually since 1972 for four days of praise and worship — suggest a different picture.  Echoing the views of many present, one evangelist on hand told me Trump hasn’t let him down. . . . . “He has to fight all of them,” said the preacher, referring to the Democrats and the media.
 Part of the decision by many evangelicals to support Trump for president was attributable to long-standing differences with liberal candidates over social issues. Evangelicals tend to share conservative positions on abortion, gun rights, border security and the fight against “radical Islamic terrorism,” as they usually make sure to phrase it. But more than anything, Trump’s specific pledges to the religious right got their attention.
So far, they think Trump has kept those promises. He has followed up with invitations to the White Housesought inputon court appointments, stood firmly with Israel and signed an executive order expanding religious freedom in regard to political speech.
 Another minister said he grows tired of hearing criticism of Trump on character issues. In the Bible and throughout history, “God uses rulers who aren’t themselves godly,” he said, pointing to the Old Testament example of David, a murderer and adulterer whom God later made king and eventually called “a man after my own heart.” [T]he president also sends more subtle messages on the subject of faith vs. science. For example, when Trump refuses to fully adopt the conclusion that climate change is due to man-made influences, he demonstrates an affinity with evangelical Christians who do not blindly accept every scientific theory. . . . They know many of their beliefs contradict scientific facts and theories.
They also know they are considered by many to be superstitious or ignorant for adhering to their beliefs.
Most evangelical believers don’t condemn Trump for the litany of words or deeds that so disturb others, even when they disapprove. . . . . The only miracle they were promised was the application of the grace of Jesus Christ, which, under New Testament doctrine, washed away their sins. They know Donald J. Trump is not worthy of the grace of God, because neither were they — which, to them, is the mystery and beauty of this undeserved gift.

Few references to the New Testament and an affinity for a man who embraces their celebration of ignorance and bigotry.   Not nice or people worthy of respect or deference.  

As the previous post notes, we are always conscious of hurricanes and tropical storms in the Atlantic Ocean and Hurricane Irma is no exception - especially given the uncertainty of its likely path.  The coming days will hopefully bring some increased reliability to forecasts of its track and allow people to know if they need to make preparations.  Mother Jones looks at the still uncertain nature of Irma's path:
The National Hurricane Center is forecasting that Irma will remain powerful for days and meteorologists are already in awe of the storm’s potential strength, but it’s too soon to tell where the storm is headed. 
“I’m seeing some of the highest wind forecast that I’ve seen,” Michael Ventrice, a meteorological scientist, tells Mother Jones. What’s striking about Irma is how early the models have predicted its strength. “You usually don’t see models predicting a Category 5,”  Ventrice says. “With regards to Harvey, we only had one to two days of knowing it would be a major storm.”
Meteorologists are running several models tracking the potential path of the storm. 
“Stronger storms typically curve up the Eastern Seaboard,” Ventrice says, “but there’s a split in the models,” which now predict the hurricane could make landfall anywhere from Florida, the Carolinas, the Mid-Atlantic region or back out to sea. Notably, Florida has not been directly hit by a hurricane since 2005. (Last year, Hurricane Matthew tracked perilously close to the state’s coast.)
Some models track the potential of the storm turning back out to sea, while others look at a potential path over the Caribbean islands and to the Gulf of Mexico. Weather patterns such as high and low pressure systems could also play a role in the path and intensity of the storm.
Those affected by Harvey and people on the east coast should keep an eye on the storm, but it’s much too early to take any protective measures. Ventrice warns that the storm is “still a wait and see type of thing.”

Critical Questions about Hurricane Harvey Are Not Being Asked

As I sit in a house located roughly 500 feet or less from Hampton Roads harbor and perhaps less than 50 feet from Robinson Creek, a tidal creek that connects to the nearby harbor, it is hard to not think about rising sea levels and the changing climate that is exacerbating the sea level rise.  Looking across the harbor from our master bedroom, one sees the Norfolk Naval Base where the sea level has risen roughly a foot and a half since early in the last century and where the City of Norfolk is experiencing increasing issues with tidal flooding and stormwater run off that has nowhere to go due to the higher sea levels. On the first floor of our home, one is reminded of past flooding in the 2009 Nor'Ida storm by the marble floors and non-water absorbent wainscoting that rises 3 feet above the floor throughout the entire first floor, closets and laundry room included. And then there are the 3 industrial sump pumps which can pump the equivalent of a swimming pool every hour strategically located (and camouflaged as shown in the photo at the end of this post) to deal with potential future flooding and the natural gas fueled 20,000 kilowatt generator to power them in the event of a power outage in a hurricane.  Thoughts of climate change are ever present for us.  Yet even with the disaster that has befallen Houston and much of the Texas coast with Hurricane Harvey, the discussion of climate changes role in Harvey's destructive power is minimal.  It's easier - and more comforting - to blame bad planning practices in Houston (which did play a role) than to face the larger problem and America and the world's failure to adequately address it.  A piece in The Guardian looks at the self-imposed silence on perhaps the most pressing emergency of the day, climate change.  Here are highlights:
It is not only Donald Trump’s government that censors the discussion of climate change; it is the entire body of polite opinion. This is why, though the links are clear and obvious, most reports on Hurricane Harvey have made no mention of the human contribution to it.
In 2016 the US elected a president who believes that human-driven global warming is a hoax. It was the hottest year on record, in which the US was hammered by a series of climate-related disasters. Yet the total combined coverage for the entire year on the evening and Sunday news programmes on ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox News amounted to 50 minutes. Our greatest predicament, the issue that will define our lives, has been blotted from the public’s mind.
This is not an accident. But nor (with the exception of Fox News) is it likely to be a matter of policy. It reflects a deeply ingrained and scarcely conscious self-censorship. Reporters and editors ignore the subject because they have an instinct for avoiding trouble. To talk about climate breakdown (which in my view is a better term than the curiously bland labels we attach to this crisis) is to question not only Trump, not only current environmental policy, not only current economic policy – but the entire political and economic system.
It is to expose a programme that relies on robbing the future to fuel the present . . . 
To claim there is no link between climate breakdown and the severity of Hurricane Harvey is like claiming there is no link between the warm summer we have experienced and the end of the last ice age. Every aspect of our weather is affected by the fact that global temperatures rose by about 4C between the ice age and the 19th century. And every aspect of our weather is affected by the 1C of global warming caused by human activities. While no weather event can be blamed solely on human-driven warming, none is unaffected by it.
We know that the severity and impact of hurricanes on coastal cities is exacerbated by at least two factors: higher sea levels, caused primarily by the thermal expansion of seawater; and greater storm intensity, caused by higher sea temperatures and the ability of warm air to hold more water than cold air.
Before it reached the Gulf of Mexico, Harvey had been demoted from a tropical storm to a tropical wave. But as it reached the Gulf, where temperatures this month have been far above average, it was upgraded first to a tropical depression, then to a category one hurricane. It might have been expected to weaken as it approached the coast, as hurricanes churn the sea, bringing cooler waters to the surface. But the water it brought up from 100 metres and more was also unusually warm. By the time it reached land, Harvey had intensified to a category four hurricane.
We were warned about this. In June, for instance, Robert Kopp, a professor of Earth sciences, predicted: “In the absence of major efforts to reduce emissions and strengthen resilience, the Gulf Coast will take a massive hit. Its exposure to sea-level rise – made worse by potentially stronger hurricanes – poses a major risk to its communities.”
To raise this issue, I’ve been told on social media, is to politicise Hurricane Harvey.  . . . . In other words, talk about it only when it’s out of the news. When researchers determined, nine years on, that human activity had made a significant contribution to Hurricane Katrina, the information scarcely registered.
I believe it is the silence that’s political. To report the storm as if it were an entirely natural phenomenon, like last week’s eclipse of the sun, is to take a position. By failing to make the obvious link and talk about climate breakdown, media organisations ensure our greatest challenge goes unanswered. They help push the world towards catastrophe.
Hurricane Harvey offers a glimpse of a likely global future; a future whose average temperatures are as different from ours as ours are from those of the last ice age. It is a future in which emergency becomes the norm, and no state has the capacity to respond. It is a future in which, as a paper in the journal Environmental Research Letters notes, disasters like Houston’s occur in some cities several times a year. It is a future that, for people in countries such as Bangladesh, has already arrived, almost unremarked on by the rich world’s media. It is the act of not talking that makes this nightmare likely to materialise.
In Texas, the connection could scarcely be more apparent. The storm ripped through the oil fields, forcing rigs and refineries to shut down, including those owned by some of the 25 companies that have produced more than half the greenhouse gas emissions humans have released since the start of the Industrial Revolution. Hurricane Harvey has devastated a place in which climate breakdown is generated, and in which the policies that prevent it from being addressed are formulated.
Like Trump, who denies human-driven global warming but who wants to build a wall around his golf resort in Ireland to protect it from the rising seas, these companies, some of which have spent millions sponsoring climate deniers, have progressively raised the height of their platforms in the Gulf of Mexico, in response to warnings about higher seas and stronger storms. They have grown from 40ft above sea level in 1940, to 70ft in the 1990s, to 91ft today.
The problem is not confined to the US. Across the world, the issue that hangs over every aspect of our lives is marginalised, except on the rare occasions where world leaders gather to discuss it in sombre tones (then sombrely agree to do almost nothing), whereupon the instinct to follow the machinations of power overrides the instinct to avoid a troubling subject.
When Trump’s enforcers instruct officials and scientists to purge any mention of climate change from their publications, we are scandalised. But when the media does it, without the need for a memo, we let it pass. This censorship is invisible even to the perpetrators, woven into the fabric of organisations that are constitutionally destined to leave the major questions of our times unasked. To acknowledge this issue is to challenge everything. To challenge everything is to become an outcast.
A portion of the Norfolk Naval Base in a previous hurricane
A 7000 gallon/hour pump is covered by a removable cover under the vase in the photo

Saturday Morning Male Beauty - Pt 1

Friday, September 01, 2017

Trump's Indifference to the Rule of Law

It has been a week since Der Trumpenführer pardoned white supremacist Joe Arpaio who has  - as previously noted - a horrific record of abusing the civil rights of Hispanics and costing Maricopa County, Arizona many millions of dollars, yet the condemnations keep on coming from those who care about the rule of law and have a shred of empathy for other human beings.  The Arpaio pardon and Trump's anti-transgender ban directive - both announced a week ago - underscore the reality that Trump cares about only two elements in American society: (i) Christian extremists and (ii) white supremacists (as previously noted, from my tracking of Christian "family values" for over 20 years, the two groups significantly overlap).  The take away: Trump holds the rule of law and the civil rights of citizens he doesn't like in contempt.  In his latest column, Andrew Sullivan unloads on Trump - and by extension, his white supremacist and Christofascist supporters.  Here are excerpts:
Even a week later, the stench of it hangs in the air. The pardon of Sheriff Joe Arpaio is one of the more chilling authoritarian moves that Trump has made so far. I say this not simply because Arpaio treated prisoners in his charge in barbaric ways; not just because the president described this brutality as Arpaio simply “doing his job”; not even because Arpaio proudly and constantly engaged in racial profiling, making Latino citizens and noncitizens alike afraid to leave their own homes. I say it for a simpler reason: because it is Trump’s deepest indication yet that the rule of law means nothing to him.
Yes, the pardon power has been abused before — as any perusal of Bill Clinton’s final days in office will confirm. But it makes a difference, it seems to me, when the president pardons a law-enforcement officer for openly breaking the law, and refusing to abide by a court order to stop doing so. It makes an even bigger difference if the pardon is granted long before the legal process has played itself out. This isn’t a pardon, as is usually the case, for someone who has served time, shows contrition and deserves some kind of mercy. It is a pardon seemingly designed to blow a raspberry at the court system, and tell anyone in law enforcement or border control or ICE or anywhere for that matter that, if you commit brutal or illegal acts, the big man has your back.
This is government as an unaccountable, legally immune thug. Of course Trump telegraphed this in the campaign by backing violence against dissenters in his rallies, championing torture, and when he recently told police officers it was fine to manhandle criminal suspects. I still have a hard time imagining a president of the United States openly showing contempt for due process or basic decency; but here we are. No one could defend this — even National Review and The Wall Street Journal were disgusted. But say what you like about Trump, this attraction to brute force, this reveling in it, is something he has never hidden.
Is it also a signal that the president could pardon — even preemptively — anyone caught up in criminality in the Mueller investigation? I suspect so, even though Mueller subtly responded to that threat last Wednesday, by letting it be known he is working alongside Eric Schneiderman, the attorney general of New York. State crimes, after all, can’t be pardoned by the president.
An instinctual despot like Trump can find even the most benign of the president’s constitutional powers — the pardon — and turn it against the rule of law. We really need to remind ourselves of this on a daily basis if we are not to become numb to it: to advance his own interests, there is nothing this president would not do. If we enter, as we well might, a constitutional crisis, we have been warned all too clearly what this man is capable of.

John McCain Lets Loose on Trump and Do Nothing Congress

Perhaps his cancer diagnosis has prompted to think about his own mortality and the need to get things accomplished.  Or perhaps he has belated reverted back to the John McCain of old - prior to his sellout to the far right and his selection of the idiot of Wasilla as his running mate.  Whatever the cause, in a Washington Post op-ed John McCain has vented his frustration with what the GOP has become and Congress' failure to fulfill its constitutional duties and to put the well being of the nation and all citizens ahead of partisan posturing and small mindedness.  It reminds me of why I once supported McCain in his 2000 presidential primary bid.  Here are op-ed highlights:
Americans recoiled from the repugnant spectacle of white supremacists marching in Charlottesville to promote their un-American “blood and soil” ideology. There is nothing in their hate-driven racism that can match the strength of a nation conceived in liberty and comprising 323 million souls of different origins and opinions who are equal under the law.
Most of us share Heather Heyer’s values, not the depravity of the man who took her life. We are the country that led the free world to victory over fascism and dispatched communism to the ash heap of history. We are the superpower that organized not an empire, but an international order of free, independent nations that has liberated more people from poverty and tyranny than anyone thought possible in the age of colonies and autocracies.
Our shared values define us more than our differences. And acknowledging those shared values can see us through our challenges today if we have the wisdom to trust in them again.
Congress will return from recess next week facing continued gridlock as we lurch from one self-created crisis to another. We are proving inadequate not only to our most difficult problems but also to routine duties. Our national political campaigns never stop. We seem convinced that majorities exist to impose their will with few concessions and that minorities exist to prevent the party in power from doing anything important.
That’s not how we were meant to govern. Our entire system of government — with its checks and balances, its bicameral Congress, its protections of the rights of the minority — was designed for compromise.
That has never been truer than today, when Congress must govern with a president who has no experience of public office, is often poorly informed and can be impulsive in his speech and conduct.
We must respect his authority and constitutional responsibilities. We must, where we can, cooperate with him. But we are not his subordinates. We don’t answer to him. We answer to the American people. We must be diligent in discharging our responsibility to serve as a check on his power. And we should value our identity as members of Congress more than our partisan affiliation.
I argued during the health-care debate for a return to regular order, letting committees of jurisdiction do the principal work of crafting legislation and letting the full Senate debate and amend their efforts. . . .  We might not like the compromises regular order requires, but we can and must live with them if we are to find real and lasting solutions. And all of us in Congress have the duty, in this sharply polarized atmosphere, to defend the necessity of compromise before the American public.
Let’s try that approach on a budget that realistically meets the nation’s critical needs.  . . . A compromise that raises spending caps for both sides’ priorities is better than the abject failure that has been our achievement to date.
Let’s also try that approach on immigration. The president has promised greater border security. We can agree to that. A literal wall might not be the most effective means to that end, but we can provide the resources necessary to secure the border with smart and affordable measures. Let’s make it part of a comprehensive bill that members of both parties can get behind — one that values our security as well as the humanity of immigrants and their contributions to our economy and culture.
Let’s try it on tax reform and infrastructure improvement and all the other urgent priorities confronting us. These are all opportunities to show that ordinary, decent, free people can govern competently, respectfully and humbly, and to prove the value of the United States Congress to the great nation we serve.
Now if only other members of Congress would do what McCain asks.

More Friday Male Beauty

Trump, Putin and Russiagate's Growing Web

On Wednesday we learned that special counsel Robert Mueller is now working with the Attorney General of New York with a likely plan to force Trump sycophant Paul Manafort to go state's evidence on Trump given the reality that Trump cannot pardon Manafort of a state law conviction that could send him to prison for many years.  Then last night, we learn Mueller is also working with the IRS's financial crimes unit particularly on the issue of money laundering, something that Trump's real estate projects could have served to further. Follow the money and the wire transfers and often what was obscure becomes very clear. But there are other aspects to the growing Russiagate web as we learn of Trump's efforts to build a Trump Tower Moscow during the 2016 presidential election campaign - something some told him would help him  win the election. Never in my life time has there been a president so mired in scandal and likely illegal activities.  Only by sticking one's head in the sand can anyone pretend that Trump isn't toxic - 56% of respondents in a Fox News poll believed Trump was tearing the nation apart.  A column in the Washington Post looks at the growing web. Here are excerpts:
Just so there’s no confusion: Donald Trump’s longtime personal lawyer emailed Vladimir Putin’s personal spokesman? Seeking help from the Kremlin on a deal to build a Trump Tower in Moscow? During the presidential campaign?
Yes, this really happened. While most attention was rightly focused on the devastating flood in Houston, there was quite a bit of news on the Russia front — all of it, from President Trump’s perspective, quite bad.
The revelations begin with a Trump business associate named Felix Sater . A Russian émigré who bragged about his Kremlin connections, Sater was a principal figure in development of the Trump Soho hotel and condominium project in lower Manhattan. Sater wrote a series of emails to Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen, touting the Moscow Trump Tower project as a way to help Trump win the presidency.
In November 2015 — five months after Trump had entered the race for the Republican presidential nomination — Sater wrote to Cohen that he had “arranged” for Trump’s daughter Ivanka, during a 2006 visit to Moscow, “to sit in Putins private chair at his desk and office in the Kremlin.”
The email went on, “I will get Putin on this program and we will get Donald elected. We both know no one else knows how to pull this off without stupidity or greed getting in the way. I know how to play it and we will get this done. Buddy our boy can become President of the USA and we can engineer it. I will get all of Putins team to buy in on this.”
There is no evidence that Cohen, one of Trump’s closest associates, found anything improper in Sater’s pledge to get Putin “on this program.” Nor did Cohen or anyone in the Trump Organization bother to disclose the emails — or the Trump firm’s effort, even during the campaign, to profitably emblazon the Trump name on the Moscow skyline — until the correspondence was turned over to the House Intelligence Committee on Monday.
And there’s more: In January 2016, with the Moscow project apparently stalled, Cohen went straight to the top to get it back on track — or at least tried to. He sent an email to Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s longtime personal spokesman, “hereby requesting your assistance.”
So Trump was lying when he tweeted, shortly before his inauguration, that “I HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH RUSSIA — NO DEALS, NO LOANS, NO NOTHING!” The truth is that in October 2015, on the same day he participated in a GOP candidates’ debate, he signed a letter of intent for the Moscow Trump Tower project.
That is a “deal,” and Trump’s hunger to keep it alive may explain his reluctance to say anything critical about Putin. Or it may tell just part of the story.
The other part involves the whole question of collusion between Russian officials and the Trump campaign to meddle with the election and boost Trump’s chances. Sater’s boasts, by themselves, are hardly definitive. But of course there is the larger context, which includes the infamous meeting that Donald Trump Jr. convened in New York at which he hoped to receive dirt, courtesy of the Russian government, on Hillary Clinton.
Thus far we have the president’s son, son-in-law Jared Kushner (who was at that meeting), then-campaign manager Paul Manafort (also at the meeting) and now his personal lawyer all seemingly eager for Russian help in the election. Who in the campaign wasn’t willing to collude?
Some have suggested that Trump’s pardon of Joe Arpaio, the unrepentant “birther” and racial profiler, might have been a message to Trump associates facing heat from prosecutors: Hang tough and don’t worry, you’ll get pardons.
But there was more bad news for the president: Politico reported that Mueller is now cooperating and sharing information with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. Presidents can only issue pardons for federal offenses, not state crimes. Uh-oh.
To understand Trump, one must think in terms of a Mafia don willing to use any illegality to further the crime family's business.  The only difference is that Trump is more amoral than the worst Mafia don.  That Trump occupies the White House is truly frightening.

Scamvangelists Like Joel Osteen Are Why Americans Are Leaving Religion

Scamvangelist Joel Osteen
As noted in numerous posts, a growing number of Americans are simply walking away from religion, particularly Christianity.  Various pools and studies have shown that for the Millennials, a main motivation is the anti-LGBT animus that is a hallmark of so-called "conservative" denominations. Another principal motivation has been shown to be revulsion to the hypocrisy and Pharisee-like behavior of the Christofascist.  Now, with Hurricane Harvey having wrought heretofore unimaginable damage to Houston and  the Texas coastline, we are once again seeing who the real Christians are so to speck and who are the they equivalent of the money changers in the temple as described in the Bible.  While many small local churches are mobilizing to help (a number of churches in my former neighborhood in Houston), the obscenely wealthy televangelists - I call them scamvangelists - have been slow to help and seemingly put their own wealth ahead of aiding those in need.  A case in point is Joel Osteen whose mega church only stepped up to assisting Hurricane Harvey victims after scathing condemnation on social media. A piece in Salon looks at how Osteen and those of his ilk are accelerating the exodus from organized Christianity.  Here are excerpts:
[A]s American Protestantism has moved from focusing on humble public service to greed and naked political ambition. Some, like Dallas pastor Robert Jeffress, . . . . . In 2013, he finished construction on a $130 million church campus in Dallas, a project which he claimed was about glorifying God, instead of mammon.
“In these tough economic times, we wanted to use our gifts to build a church that provides spiritual growth and healing while seeking to reflect the splendor and majesty of God,” he said at the time. A year earlier, he had claimed that then-president Barack Obama was “paving the way for the future reign of the Antichrist.”
Jeffress made those comments during the 2012 election campaign, in the context of his support of that year’s Republican nominee, Mitt Romney. Just four years prior, the Baptist minister had claimed that Romney’s Mormon faith was a “cult” whose members were going to hell. In a 2016 move that surprised no one, Jeffress was one of Donald Trump’s earliest endorsers.
Osteen is different from some of his evangelical colleagues in that he has generally shied away from political involvement. Despite having called Trump “a friend of our ministry” and “a good man,” he has not endorsed political candidates. What Osteen has endorsed, however, is what many critics have called the “prosperity gospel,” the idea that God not only wants to bless believers spiritually but wants to bless them financially as well.
Osteen does not draw a salary from his Lakewood Church nor does he directly ask his fans for money, unlike many other ostensibly religious organizations. Last year, a Canadian religious group called Gospel for Asia was accused of absconding with more than $90 million in donations. Nonetheless, Osteen’s followers have certainly ponied up bigly. His organization reportedly has an annual budget of more than $70 million, and the church facility he originally declined to open up to flood refugees was previously the home arena of the NBA’s Houston Rockets.
Osteen’s views on wealth and his ostentatious style (he lives in a $10.5 million mansion and is estimated to be worth about $40 million) are a pronounced departure from traditional Christian teachings about “the love of money” being the root of all evil, how difficult it is for a rich person to live a life worthy of God and how the materially disadvantaged are regarded more favorably by the divine.
Osteen’s theological indifference seems to be reflected not just in his initial refusal to follow Jesus Christ’s directive to care for “the least of these my brethren” but also in his apparent lack of preaching interest in Christ himself.
A search through Osteen’s Twitter feed reveals that he almost never mentions Jesus to his digital flock. Generally speaking, he only mentions the name of his alleged savior around Easter, never around Christmas. In fact, within the past three years, he has mentioned “Jesus” or “Christ” only 14 times amid hundreds of tweets.
Rafts of political science research have demonstrated that American churches’ doctrinal views have driven away people who want their faith to be more receptive to scientific evidence on issues like homosexuality or evolution. The Religious Right’s vociferous attempts to merge evangelical Christianity with far-right political opinions have also made those with moderate or liberal views look elsewhere for moral discussion.
It’s also clearly true that some religious leaders’ attempts to cash in on their followers’ need for validation and their displays of callous indifference to suffering — both of which are exemplified by Osteen — are part of the reason why nearly 24 percent of Americans now say they have no religious affiliation, compared to just 3 percent in the 1950s.
“Hypocrisies and conflicts in church, when they (inevitably) erupt, don’t just drive people to other churches, as in the past, but sometimes take them out of Christianity altogether,” Georgia pastor David Gushee wrote last year. He’s exactly right.
As the Pew Research Center’s Michael Lipka noted in 2015, this process is only accelerating as people who say they’re not a part of any religious tradition are not only becoming more numerous, they’re also becoming even more skeptical of religion itself.
Presumably, these trends ought to bother people like Joel Osteen and Robert Jeffress. Apparently they have other things on their minds.
Sadly, what these con-artists have on their minds is money and self-enrichment. In nearby Virginia Beach we have a case study in self-enrichment combined with marketing hate and intolerance: Pat Robertson.  The Gospel message means nothing to these people. They are a case study in why one would not want to label themselves as "Christian."

Friday Morning Male Beauty - Pt 1

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Hurricane Irma Just Hit Category 3

With the recovery i east Texas still not even started, yet a new potential menace to the United States east coast is developing: a new Atlantic hurricane, name Irma just hit category 3 and is projected to hit category 4 before it makes landfall either somewhere in the Gulf of Mexico, Florida or the Atlantic coastline.  For the husband and I, it is always the "I" named storms that have hit Hampton Roads and resulted in flooding in our home: Isabel, Ida and Irene.  Now we have Irma headed westward from the eastern Atlantic Ocean. Since Ida and Irene, we have made the first floor of our home water resistant up to 3 feet above floor level, have installed a whole house generator and have installed 3 industrial grade sump pumps in the hope of never having standing water in our home again. Since the installation of the pumps and generator (which runs off natural gas and turns on automatically) we have never been tested.  The Atlantic looks at this new potential threat to America. Here are excerpts:
As Harvey moves on from southeastern Texas and floodwaters start to recede, meteorologists are tracking another storm brewing in the eastern Atlantic Ocean that they say could potentially approach the United States in the coming weeks.
Irma became a Category 3 hurricane late Thursday afternoon, making it the season’s second major hurricane. The hurricane now packs maximum sustained winds of 115 miles per hour, with stronger gusts.
Irma had already quickly transformed from a tropical storm into a Category 2 hurricane, according to the National Hurricane Center. It exhibits an unusual—but not unprecedented—rate of growth, according to meteorologists.
Like Harvey and other Atlantic hurricanes, Irma started as a tropical wave off the coast of Africa and began a slow, westward churn across the Atlantic. Irma will spent the next few days traveling toward the eastern Caribbean region. Beyond that, it’s still too early to predict exactly where the hurricane will go, meteorologists say.
The high-pressure system could launch Irma toward any number of targets, including the Bahamas and Bermuda and U.S. states like Florida, North Carolina, and Texas, McNoldy said.  “There’s no certainty. It has to go somewhere,” he said. “We just don’t know where.”
Perhaps the husband and I are gun shy, but Irma bears watching.

Thursday Morning Male Beauty - Pt 2

Evangelicals are Killing LGBT Youth from the Inside Out — Soul First

I am very hard on evangelical Christians who I view as a toxic element in American society.  They blather endlessly about personal responsibility yet they close their eyes to the deliberate harm they cause to others by clinging to what one blogger friend describes as relying on Bronze Age anonymities versus knowledge and scientific data.  Why?  First because they have been brainwashed since childhood. Second, because it is easier for them to cling to lies fed to them as children than it is to think for themselves.  Thinking for these folks is a terrifying prospect. With the Internet, knowledge is at one's finger tips unlike during the years I grew up closeted and thinking I was some lone, sinful freak.  The worst among the evangelicals are their often self-anointed leaders who not only cling to ignorance, but do so to retain power over their though free followers but also to line their pockets with money. These "leaders" - who I refer to scamvangelists - care nothing about the harm their cult of ignorance and Bronze Age beliefs  wreak on the country.  Among the favorite victims of the posion they disseminate are LGBT individuals. Surprisingly, a piece at Baptist News makes the argument of why science and data should have greater influence over society's thinking.  Here are excerpts:
This week, a group of the country’s most prominent evangelical figures released a document condemning lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and those who affirm them in what they called the Nashville Statement. Read the list of signatories and you’ll recognize the names — presidents of some of the country’s largest seminaries and pastors of burgeoning evangelical churches.
I spent three years writing a Ph.D. dissertation on the religious and spiritual dimensions of suicide among LGBTQ people, and aside from the interesting nuances of the research and the elegance of the theory that developed from that work, there’s one cruel fact that became clear: this type of theology is brutalizing the bodies and berating the souls of LGBTQ youth. In fact, it is literally killing many of us.
Take a look at a few recent statistics:
  • In 2015, GLSEN surveyed 10,528 students and found that 57.6 percent of LGBT students studied felt unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation, 43.3 percent felt unsafe because of their gender expression (an increase from 2013).
  • 82.5 percent experienced verbal harassment at school because of their sexual orientation or gender expression (another increase from 2013).
  • 57.6 percent of LGBTQ students who were harassed or physically assaulted at school didn’t tell a staff member because they thought it would not help or would even make the situation worse.
  • LGBT youth represent about 5 percent to 7 percent of the total youth population, but comprise up to 45 percent of homeless youth in the U.S. (Seeking Shelter report)
But those are cold statistics, facts on a page, representable in a flat pie chart or bar graph. I spent hours upon hours sitting face-to-face with LGBTQ people who have attempted suicide in their past and survived — people for whom suicide became a thinkable option largely because of theologies that suggested that living as LGBTQ people in their churches and families and communities was impossible.
The signatories of the Nashville Statement see this as a fight for the soul of evangelicalism. But in reality, this is a struggle for the souls of our LGBTQ family and friends and neighbors. The souls of LGBTQ people have been assailed for far too long by the largest and loudest Christian leaders in the U.S. while so many progressive churches with scads of LGBTQ people in the pews have contented themselves to affirm LGBTQ people but “not make a big deal about it” — debating whether to display a rainbow flag on their sign or state their affirmation on their website or consigning their celebration of LGBTQ lives to one week in June.
The statistics and the voices of LGBTQ people are enough to convince me that the Evangelicals are still succeeding in killing LGBTQ from the inside out — soul first. If those of us who stand in contradiction to the theology represented in the Nashville Statement are going to make any lasting different, we must stop being content to affirm in subtlety and silence or with once-a-year celebrations.
It is not enough to denounce the theology represented in this heinous statement on social media, convincing ourselves that “most people know this doesn’t represented mainline Christianity,” or contenting ourselves with the small, affirming bubble we’ve created. Churches that seek to cultivate the abundance of life for LGBTQ people have work to do, and that work will be lifesaving.

The reluctance of non-hate-filled Christians to challenge the hatred of others disseminated daily is why I fault "good Christians."   Their silence and/or deference to the Tony Perkins, James Dobsons, and Franklin Graham - not to mention the entire Southern Baptist Convention leadership - allows the denigration and assaults on LGBT lives to continue.  I grew up Roman Catholic rather than Southern Baptist, but the damage done to me was very similar.  No child or teen should grow up hating themselves and believing that suicide is the only option to them.  As a teen and young adult, I thought of suicide almost daily as I tried desperately to "pray away the gay."  When I came out, it literally took years of therapy to undo the psychological and emotional damage my religious upbringing had done to me. Indeed, there were two serious suicide attempts along the way during my coming out journey.  Lives continue to be ruined and/or loss because of evangelical's fear of thinking for themselves and letting go of writings of ignorant Bronze Age anonymities that fly in the face of modern knowledge and science.   Being LGBT is not sinful and there is no more choice in the matter than being born black, Hispanic or Middle Eastern.  Decent people need to condemn both the "Nashville Statement" and each and every one of its signatories.  Indeed, go a step further and stop giving them money and stop attending their denominations. 

Mueller Teams Up with New York State AG in Russia Probe

With the 24/7 coverage of the continuing hurricane disaster in Texas (and perhaps soon, Louisiana) and the condemnation of Der Trumpenführer's pardon of white supremacist Joe Arpaio, Russiagate has fallen somewhat off the media radar.  That may change as Politico reports that special prosecutor Robert Mueller is now working with New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and targeting Trump advisory and former Trump campaign member Paul Manafort.  As has been noted a number of times in prior posts, Manafort has ties to Kremlin cronies and is speculated to have possibly engaged in money laundering  - something many believed Trump himself engaged in for Russian financiers and oligarchs.  Added to these suspicions is, of course, the new information that Trump was seeking assistance from Vladimir Putin for a Trump Tower in Moscow during the presidential campaign.  While the strategy behind the Mueller/Schneiderman collaboration is still unclear, some conjecture that state prosecutions - which could not be halted by a presidential pardon - could prove to be the key in securing Manafort's cooperation in exposing the Trump campaign's collusion with Russia.  Here are highlights from Politico:
Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team is working with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman on its investigation into Paul Manafort and his financial transactions, according to several people familiar with the matter.
The cooperation is the latest indication that the federal probe into President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman is intensifying. It also could potentially provide Mueller with additional leverage to get Manafort to cooperate in the larger investigation into Trump’s campaign, as Trump does not have pardon power over state crimes.
The two teams have shared evidence and talked frequently in recent weeks about a potential case, these people said. One of the people familiar with progress on the case said both Mueller’s and Schneiderman’s teams have collected evidence on financial crimes, including potential money laundering. . . . . A spokesman for Manafort didn’t return phone calls seeking comment.
People close to Manafort say the team has pressured him by approaching family members and former business partners. A number of other firms and people who have worked with him have received subpoenas.
State and federal prosecutors believe the prospect of a presidential pardon could affect whether Manafort decides to cooperate investigators in the federal Trump investigation, said one of the people familiar with the matter.  While Trump has not signaled any public intention to pardon Manafort or anyone else involved in the Russia investigations, the president has privately discussed his pardon powers with his advisers.
Mueller’s team has been looking into Manafort’s lobbying work and financial transactions, including real estate deals in New York.
The attorney general won a $25 million settlement last November after a lengthy investigation into fraudulent practices at Trump University. The president said he settled just to have the matter behind him, though his previous mantra was to never settle cases.
The New York prosecutor’s office also is looking into some of Trump’s business transactions and could potentially share those records with Mueller’s team, one of these people said.