Saturday, March 17, 2018

More Saturday Morning Male Beauty

Key West 2018 - Day 1 (Cont.) and 2

So far our annual trip to Key West has been great fun even though I spent a good part of Thursday afternoon and Friday morning working on loan documents for a large securitized loan transaction. At least I got to sit and review documents in a tropical paradise at a quiet table away from the activities around the pools at The Equator.   Thursday evening, a group of us from the guesthouse went to Seven Fish for a wonderful dinner (see the image above).  As is always the case, the guests at the Equator are from all over the USA and a number of foreign countries.  Among our group at dinner was a guy from St. Petersburg, Russia and his American husband and a Canadian (included in the price of the stay at The Equator is a daily evening happy hour aimed at encouraging guests to meet each other.)  Several other couples are visiting from Virginia and I may have picked up a new real estate client.  Yesterday, we did the historic homes tour and then had dinner at 951 Prime.  Today we are headed to Latitudes on Sunset Key for lunch with a group of clients/friends.  

For those who have never visited Key West, I encourage you to visit.  This is my 10th trip!  For the husband, it is probably his 30th visit.  Making it even better, the weather has been absolutely perfect.

Reality Check: Young People Are Not the Problem

If one listens to right wing Catholics - e.g., delusional sites like "Church Militant which wants to return to the days of the Spanish Inquisition - the woes of the Church in today's world lies with the younger generations who are accused of moral and intellectual failings.  Any and every excuse and scapegoat is preferable to acknowledging that most of the Catholic Church hierarchy is a moral cesspool.  (A similar denial of reality afflicts the leadership of the Republican Party.)  If right wing Catholics and members of the hierarchy want to understand why younger generations are fleeing Catholicism like passengers fleeing a sinking ship, they need to look in the mirror.  Ditto for the Republican Party.   A piece in the National Catholic Reporter responds to the self-delusion of the Catholic right.  Here are excerpts:
If the recent conference at the University of Notre Dame — where speakers postulated reasons for young people's disassociation from the Catholic Church — represents the approach going into the upcoming Synod of Bishops on young people, we would beg church officials to postpone the gathering.
What we heard was a familiar litany, placing blame for missing young people on:
·        Technology — specifically youths' obsession with smartphones — which supposedly robs them of the contemplative mind and makes them "suckers for irrelevancy."
·        An aversion to "orthodoxy," a term the user brandished with the certainty that his strain of orthodoxy is the immutable version of the truth.
·        The "dumbing down of our faith."
·        The pervasiveness of pornography and relativism, of course.
·        And a new danger — the "bland toleration" of diversity, a curious addition.
According to this analysis, it is the young people, not the church, who are in crisis.
It isn't that healthy young people might be repulsed by the way that church leaders mishandled the sex abuse crisis for decades. Nor is it the money scandals or callousness toward gay and lesbian Catholics or the bishop-driven one-issue politics that has reduced religion and faith to a bumper sticker in the culture wars.
No, they say, the problem lies with young people who have acquired culturally influenced defects.
The cultural critique has value, of course, and the disaffection of young people from all manner of institutional involvement — from the local symphony orchestra to the Rotary Club — needs continued examination to figure out how institutions can be relevant to young people.
Before becoming too convinced that the reason for the disaffection lies with everything and everyone else, church leaders need to seriously examine how their own shortcomings and failures have contributed to young people leaving the church.
It is reasonable to understand that teens and young adults, living in a civil culture that increasingly accepts their LGBT friends and family members, find unacceptable the intolerance and outright discrimination of some Catholic officials and organizations.
It is understandable that a young person would rather not be part of an institution that preaches God's mercy but shows little mercy toward divorced and remarried parents.
Young people, especially young women, who know how their mothers and grandmothers struggled to gain equality in the wider culture, don't care to become involved in an institution where women are marginalized.
Isn't it also reasonable, speaking of vocations to the priesthood, that parents might hesitate to encourage their sons to join a clerical culture that has been depleted not only in numbers, but also in credibility and moral standing?
Unless church leaders at the highest levels thoroughly examine how our community became so distorted — corrupt like a white sepulcher — a synod about attracting younger members will ultimately prove a waste of time and effort.
Perhaps the breathless pursuit of young people in its embarrassing obviousness should be set aside to give church leaders time for deep reflection on what it means to be authentically humble. Replace fanciful answers to questions few are asking with a simple sign, containing one line, in each bishop's office: "You may be the problem."
A similar analysis needs to be undertaken by Republicans: there is a reason a super majority of Millennials vote Democrat.

The Growing Menace of the Trump/Pence Regime

If a fiction writer wrote about a White House like the one now on daily display even as recently as five (5) years ago, everyone would have condemned the narrative as "ridiculous" or "unbelievable."  Now, with each passing day we become increasingly aware that the occupant of the White House operates more or less like a crime boss, dealing with underworld figures, Russian oligarchs, cavorts with porn stars and then threatens them with physical violence while simultaneously trying to silence them with hush money.  Meanwhile, Vladimir Putin - who likely has his own cashe of blackmail materials - smiles on as American prestige and engagement with the world as a super power lurches from one embarrassment to another.  The story line put out by Trump sycophants and Republicans  - whose willingness to prostitute themselves to the morally bankrupt that would shame a tawdry whore - has been that "adults in the room" would rein in Trump's worse excesses.  As we are witnessing, this storyline is a crock of bullshit.   Every decent, honest American - which I am sad to say excludes evangelical Christians who put this human refuse in the White House - should be appalled and gravely worried.  A column in the New York Times looks at the rolling disaster.  Here are excerpts:
Since the beginning of this nightmare administration, we’ve been assured — via well-placed anonymous sources — that a few sober, trustworthy people in the White House were checking Donald Trump’s worst instincts and most erratic whims. A collection of generals, New York finance types and institution-minded Republicans were said to be nobly sacrificing their reputations and serving a disgraceful president for the good of the country. Through strategic leaks they presented themselves as guardians of American democracy rather than collaborators in its undoing.
Last August, after the president said there were “very fine people” among the white supremacist marchers in Charlottesville, Va., senior officials rationalized their continued role in the administration to Mike Allen of Axios. “If they weren’t there, they say, we would have a trade war with China, massive deportations, and a government shutdown to force construction of a Southern wall,” Allen wrote. Since then, we’ve had a government shutdown over immigration, albeit a brief one. A trade war appears imminent. Arrests of undocumented immigrants — particularly those without criminal records — have continued to surge.
Over the past 14 months we’ve also seen monstrous levels of corruption and chaos, a plummeting of America’s standing in the world and the obliteration of a host of democratic norms.
Increasingly, however, the people who were supposed to be the adults in the room aren’t in the room anymore. The former Deputy National Security Adviser Dina Powell left in January. Gary Cohn, head of the National Economic Council, announced his resignation on March 6. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was terminated by tweet on Tuesday. National Security Adviser H. R. McMaster will reportedly be among the next to go, and Trump may soon fire Attorney General Jeff Sessions, possibly as a prelude to shutting down the special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
The self-styled grown-ups are, for the most part, being replaced by lackeys and ideologues. Larry Kudlow, the CNBC pundit Trump has appointed to succeed Cohn, is known for the consistent wrongness of his predictions. Tillerson was a terrible secretary of state, but unlike his chosen successor, the director of the C.I.A., Mike Pompeo, he never trafficked in nut-job Benghazi conspiracy theories or anti-Muslim invective. John Roberts of Fox News reported that McMaster could be replaced by uberhawk John Bolton . . . .
This new stage of unbound Trumpism might make the administration’s first year look stable in comparison. That would partly vindicate the adults’ claims that things would be even messier without them. But it would also mean that by protecting the country from the consequences of an unhinged president, they helped Trump consolidate his power while he learned how to transcend restraints.
Whatever their accomplishments, if from their privileged perches these people saw the president as a dangerous fool in need of babysitting, it’s now time for some of them to say so publicly. . . . Of course, unlike Omarosa Manigault Newman, who confessed horror at her former boss’s presidency on “Celebrity Big Brother,” they haven’t. Their defenders among anti-Trump Republicans say it’s because some of them still have a role to play in staving off potential disaster. One Republican in regular contact with people in the White House told me that Powell and Cohn “need to protect their capacity to reach in and help manage in the event of any national crisis.”
I don’t find this entirely convincing. If these people see the administration as unequipped to handle an emergency, they owe the country a firsthand account of our vulnerability.
[I]f there’s one person who has no excuse for not speaking out, it’s Tillerson, once one of the most powerful private citizens in America, now humbled and defiled by his time in Trump’s orbit. . . . . There’s little doubt that Tillerson holds Trump in contempt and disagrees with large parts of his agenda. After Charlottesville, Tillerson refused to say that the president’s words represented American values.
“Rex is never going to be back in a position where he can have any degree of influence or respect from this president,” my Republican source said. Because of that, the source continued, “Rex is under a moral mandate to do his best to burn it down.” That would mean telling the truth “about how concerned he is about the leadership in the Oval Office, and what underpins those concerns and what he’s seen.”
In this case, patriotism and self-interest point in the same direction. Before entering this administration, Tillerson was a vastly more respected businessman than Trump . . . . Now the first line of his obituary will be about a year of abject failure as the country’s lead diplomat, culminating in a humiliation fit for reality TV.
The only way he will ever change that is by joining those who would bring this despicable presidency down. If Tillerson came out and said that the president is unfit, and perhaps even that venal concerns for private gain have influenced his foreign policy, impeachment wouldn’t begin tomorrow, but Trump’s already narrow public support would shrink further.
Last year, Axios’s Allen and Jim VandeHei half-jokingly called the insiders trying to circumscribe Trump the “Committee to Save America.” Now the committee, having failed, is disbanding. The least they could do is be frank with the rest of us about what we’re up against.

Saturday Morning Male Beauty

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Key West 2018 - Day 1

Sunset Key and Latitudes with Key West in the background.
The husband and I will be up well before day light and headed to Norfolk International Airport to begin our annual trek to Key West.  If all goes well, we will be in Key West by 11:26 am.  We will be staying at The Equator on Fleming Street.  Two friends from Hampton will be traveling down and we will also meet mutual clients of the husband and me who are driving down from Fort Lauderale (they are taking us to Paris and London in September, but more on that later).  We will also see former neighbors who now live in Key West full time as well as two of the husband's clients who winter in the Keys and who will join us for lunch at Latitudes on Sunset Key on Saturday.  Sunday we will do the annual pilgrimage to La Te Da for tea dance.

We have a friend staying at our home and babysitting our dog - we lost our little one on March 9, 2018 - and otherwise holding down the fort.  The only downside of the trip is that I will be working on a large hotel refinance part of the time, but at least I will be doing so in gorgeous surroundings.

Posting will be on vacation mode and I will post thoughts and commentaries as time and activities allow. 

Thursday Morning Male Beauty

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

More Wednesday Male Beauty

Absentee Ballots May Cement Democrat Upset in Pennsylvania

At times I have to think Republicans are living in a bubble or alternate universe - just like the Christofascists who make up a key element of their party's base.  They ignore reliable and mostly fact based news outlets preferring propaganda TV on Fox News and similar outlets that tell them only what they want to hear and play up to their worse prejudices, even fanning hatred at times.  They also continue to ignore the reality that less than 30% of registered voters supported Trump in 2016.  A huge portion of voters stayed home seemingly disliking both main party candidates.  That they stayed home in November, 2016, doesn't mean they will always stay home on election day or that they aren't finding the Trump//Pence regime to be nothing short of repulsive.  Republicans in Congress and down the ballot may be willing to sell their souls for short term gain, but it increasingly appears that the majority of Americans have not thrown away concern for decency and/or a longing for proper behavior by the occupant of the White House.  Thus, at the moment, Conor Lamb, a Democrat remains in the lead in Pennsylvania's 18th District where Trump won by 20 points in 2016.  Lamb's lead may well be cemented by absentee ballots which skew towards Democrat leaning Alleghany County.   A column in the New York Times underscores why Republicans ought to be very worried even if their candidate some how squeaks out a win.  Here are highlights:
It’s hard to imagine a candidate with friendlier looks, a more harmless demeanor and a gentler-sounding surname than Conor Lamb.
It’s hard to imagine a message for the G.O.P. scarier than the one that Lamb, a Democrat, just delivered in a special House election in Pennsylvania’s 18th district, where he led his Republican opponent, Rick Saccone, by less than 1,000 votes in a race that remained too close to call on Wednesday morning.
Lamb declared victory. But even if he somehow ends up losing, Democrats have reason to rejoice and Republicans to tremble. Just 16 months ago, Donald Trump won this district by 20 points, and its promise as the kind of place brimming with the sort of voters who thrill to him was confirmed by his visit there late last week for a rally in support of Saccone. [Trump] The president put what popularity he retains on the line, and flexed his trademark schoolyard humor with the epithet “Lamb the Sham.” This is all that he has to show for it.
Politically and ideologically, Saccone glued himself to Trump, running a campaign whose slogan might as well have been, “I’m With Him.” Outside Republican groups poured millions into the race, some of it for ads that touted the very tax cuts that are supposed to buoy their hopes to hold onto their House majority in the November midterms.
So Lamb’s showing — win, lose or draw — is remarkable, and it’s of a piece with the victory of Doug Jones, a Democrat, in a special election for the U.S. Senate in Alabama and with what happened last November in Virginia, where Democrats prevailed decisively in the gubernatorial race and picked up a large number of seats in the state’s House of Delegates. Clearly, the opposition to Trump is energized and organized. In the upcoming hours and days, you will hear otherwise. Republican leaders will spin like mad. They’ll make the case that what happened in Pennsylvania was peculiar to Pennsylvania and that there are few omens to be seen in it or lessons to be gleaned. They commenced that effort even before the voting in Pennsylvania on Tuesday, spooked by late polls that suggested serious trouble for Saccone, 60. . . . . They bemoaned everything about him down to his mustache. They noted that Lamb, 33, a handsome (and clean-shaven) military veteran, was straight from central casting . . . . “When your message is simply I am for new leadership and cleaning up Washington, and you look like you just walked out of an Orvis catalog, you are going to connect with voters on both sides of the aisle,” wrote Saleno Zito in the Washington Examiner late last week.
[M]any of the Democrats who will vie to unseat Republican incumbents in House races in November won’t be able to follow Lamb’s playbook. To get through their party’s primaries, they’ll have to stake out more progressive ground than he did, and adopt a more combative, fiery tone. That could undercut their chances of replicating his success.
Indeed, Democrats’ euphoria over how he fared on Tuesday will give way to sharp internal tensions and sustained quarreling over which sorts of candidates — soft-spoken or bold, centrist or liberal, eclectic or pure — the party would be wisest, from a pragmatic standpoint, to promote.
But if the Pennsylvania results put Democrats in an awkward position, they leave Republicans in an even worse place. What exactly is their best strategy for the midterms? Sending President Trump into districts that supposedly smile on him isn’t looking like such a hot proposition. The mantra of “tax cuts, tax cuts, tax cuts” is obviously no panacea.
And with each passing week — each passing day — the Trump administration’s turbulence intensifies and the scandals and scandal-ettes pile up. Yes, it’s a long way from now until November, and much about the national mood and the playing field can change. But in that yawning stretch of time, Trump can also render himself and his enablers even less attractive. I have faith.
To me, Democrats need to cease internal squabbles and avoid the bullshit like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders sought to inject into the Democrat primary in Virginia.  Thankfully, their effort failed and a far better candidate won the primary.  The same thing needs to happen in districts across America where the real goal should be to defeat Republicans everywhere possible.  Democrats also need to take a lesson from Ralph Northam and Conor Lamb's playbook:  the ground game and turn out the vote effort means EVERYTHING. 

Are Republicans Already Beginning to Worry About the Judgment of History?

Democrats condemning GOP white washing - will history do likewise?
Yesterday, the Republican members of the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee released a report finding that the committee had found no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives.  The report was released over the protests of Democrat members of the committee and after the Republican majority had refused to interview witnesses and/or review other evidence that might have led to a contrary finding.   Driving home I happened to catch statements of former RNC chair Michael Steele who suggested that history might be far less than kind to these Republicans.  Indeed, in my own mind - and I am a former Republican myself - the House Intelligence Committee Republicans opted to side with possible, if not likely, treason.  A piece in the Washington Post looks at some GOP members of the committee who seem to be trying to cover their despicable behinds.  Here are article excerpts:
The leader of the House Intelligence Committee’s Russia investigation seemed to back off Tuesday from the most surprising finding in the GOP’s report that Russia was not trying to help President Trump, as the panel’s top Democrat trashed the product as a political gift to the White House.
Rep. K. Michael Conaway (R-Tex.) told reporters Tuesday that “it’s clear [Russian officials] were trying to hurt Hillary [Clinton]” by interfering in the 2016 election and that “everybody gets to make up their own mind whether they were trying to hurt Hillary, help Trump, it’s kind of glass half full, glass half empty.”
That equivalence stands in sharp contrast to the conclusions of a 150-page GOP-drafted report Conaway announced to the news media on Monday that concludes that the intelligence community “didn’t meet the standards” of proof necessary to determine that Russia meddled in the 2016 election with the aim of helping Trump.
His comments came after other panel Republicans, including Reps. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) and Thomas J. Rooney (R-Fla.) gave interviews in which they stressed that there was evidence that Russia had tried to damage Clinton’s candidacy.
The report’s findings on Russia’s intentions in interfering is just one area of the document with which Democrats on the panel took issue Tuesday after being presented with it in the morning.
The panel’s ranking Democrat, Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), who called the report “not a serious work,” said the document was proof that Republicans were willing only to “go through the motions of an investigation . . . to give the pretense of trying to find the truth.”
Schiff added that the report was “little more than another Nunes memo in long form,” . . . . Democrats accused Republicans of using the Nunes memo to undermine the Russia investigation — a charge they also applied to Tuesday’s GOP report.
 Schiff and other Democrats on the committee released a 22-page “status update” Tuesday night, listing the various witnesses, firms and documents the panel had declined to subpoena or otherwise examine, along with the reasons that each would be relevant to the investigation. It also lays out areas of inquiry that the minority members say the GOP abandoned by terminating the probe earlier than Democrats would have liked. Democratic committee members pledged to forge ahead with the investigation and eventually issue their own report, although they do not have the ability to subpoena witnesses and other information without the panel chairman’s buy-in.
They reserved special vitriol for the GOP’s decision not to more aggressively pursue uncooperative witnesses such as former White House strategist Stephen K. Bannon, whom Conaway had previously considered holding in contempt.
Schiff said. “This majority doesn’t want to know the answers, and it has set a precedent now that will affect future congresses’ ability to get answers from the executive.”

Like too many Republicans of today, German politicians in the late 1920's ands early 1930's sold their souls to Hitler and the Nazi Party for what they saw as short term advantage.  Long term they sold their souls and have been damned by history and left their descendants  bearing a burden of shame.   I truly do not understand the mindset that predominates within today's Republican Party. 

Wednesday Morning Male Beauty

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

GOP Candidate Attacks Parkland Teen Emma Gonzalez

GOP igot Leslie Gibson
Sadly, nowadays if one hears foul and disgusting (not to mention often totally untrue) attacks on minorities, LGBT individuals or non-Christians, it is a safe bet that the individual or individuals launching the attacks are either (i) a Christofascist, or (ii) a Republican.  Demonstrating the veracity of such assumption is Leslie Gibson, a Republican candidate for the Maine House of Representatives, who has attacked Emma Gonzalez, one of the student activists from the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on February 14, 2018.  Gibson attacked Gonzales and called her a "skinhead lesbian."  As an "out" bisexual, a Hispanic, and an opponent to unrestricted gun ownership, Gonzales is a trifecta of those hated by today's Republican Party.  NBC News looks at Gibson's rank bigotry.  Here are excerpts:
A Republican candidate for the Maine House of Representatives has used Twitter to attack two students who survived a mass shooting at a Florida high school, calling one of them, who is openly bisexual, a "skinhead lesbian" and the other a "bald-faced liar." Gibson is the only declared candidate for the 57th District . . . Pat Fogg, a Democratic organizer in the town of Greene, Maine, said, "That sort of stupidity really turns people off." Fogg added that she hopes someone will jump into the race to challenge Gibson.
Gibson has since deactivated his Twitter account, but multiple news outlets have taken screen shots of his offending remarks.
Meanwhile, furor over Gibson's comments has erupted on social media, with some, like Fogg, calling for another candidate to join the race just to oppose him.  Gonzalez has not yet responded to Gibson's remarks.

And yes, the everyday bigotry of Republicans is being noticed internationally.  The London Daily Mail reports om Gibson's foul 

More Tuesday Male Beauty

Betsy DeVos' Mission to Destroy Public Education

Betsy DeVos - a study in incompetence and racism.

Long before she was nominated to be Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos was well known to advocates of quality public schools due to her efforts to push charter schools and vouchers for religiously affiliated schools in her home state of Michigan and elsewhere.  Her efforts were and continue to be part of the long history of right wing Christians trying to gut public education and shift funding to private, but mostly religious affiliated schools that could be segregated on a de facto if not official bases. Also, like most Christian extremists, DeVos has long hated public schools that emphasize the teaching of evolution - which gasp, challenges a mind dead acceptance of the Bible - versus the creationism that is so loved by the self-congratulatory "godly folk."  On Sunday evening, DeVos did an interview on "60 Minutes" which put her idiocy and racism on display for all to see.  The women is unfit for her office and has demonstrated that money - especially that earned by ones parents and/or other ancestors - or well connected parents does not equate to having brains or even common sense (voters in Norfolk's coming school board elections should take note of this reality).  A column in the New York Times looks at DeVos' disastrous interview and the ugliness it revealed.  Here are highlights:

On Sunday evening, CBS’s “60 Minutes” broadcast an interview that Lesley Stahl conducted with Betsy DeVos, Donald Trump’s education secretary and one of the richest members of his very rich cabinet. It was overwhelmingly seen as a disaster for DeVos, who struggled to answer very basic questions. She couldn’t say, for example, why schools in Michigan, her home state, have largely gotten worse since the widespread introduction of the school choice policies she lobbied for. When Stahl asked whether, as secretary, she’d ever visited a failing school to find out what went wrong, DeVos said, “I have not intentionally visited schools that are underperforming.”
Like many things in Trump’s administration, this performance was shocking but not surprising. Before becoming secretary of education, DeVos had never worked as an educator or a policymaker; she was a donor to education reform efforts favored by the right, such as school choice and vouchers. Her confirmation hearings last year were an embarrassment. She appeared to be unfamiliar with the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act, a federal civil rights law. After taking office, she described historically black universities and colleges, founded in response to segregation, as “pioneers when it comes to school choice.”
As this comment suggested, DeVos is, at best, oblivious about race. That obliviousness — or worse — is behind one of the more disturbing moments in her “60 Minutes” interview. In a sick irony, some on the right would use the recent school shooting in Parkland, Fla. . . . as a pretext to roll back civil rights protections for students of color. On “60 Minutes,” DeVos, whom Trump has chosen to lead his new school safety commission, appeared to signal she’s on board.
“The logic that people try to manufacture is that the effort to end exclusionary school discipline renders schools unsafe places,” Catherine Lhamon, who served as assistant secretary for civil rights in Obama’s Department of Education, told me. “It doesn’t even bear scrutiny, really.”
But in this administration it doesn’t have to. DeVos isn’t just considering ending the policy. Speaking to Stahl, she refused to even admit that race plays a role in discipline.
Among experts, this isn’t really a subject for debate. “There’s some fairly good empirical evidence that says minority students are more likely than white students in similar situations to be written up and disciplined,” said Michael Hansen, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who studies education policy.
Stahl compared situations in which white kids are punished for classroom disruption by a trip to the principal’s office, while for black kids, “they call in the cops.” DeVos refused to say such a discrepancy is wrong . . . . Black public school students are suspended at 3.8 times the rate of white students. That discrepancy alone doesn’t necessarily demonstrate discrimination, but there’s evidence that students of color are punished differently from white students for the same infractions.
Combine this tacit license to discriminate with the Trump administration plan to encourage the arming of teachers, and you have a recipe for something combustible. There’s a lesson here that applies across the administration. Don’t let the clownishness distract you from the bigotry.

Trump Evangelicals Have Sold Their Souls

Trump and the morally bankrupt Jerry Falwell, Jr.
I make no bones about the fact that I do not like evangelical Christians in general and those that voted for an continue to support Donald Trump, a/k/a Der Trumpenf├╝hrer.  Part of this dislike may be an unconscious residue of my Catholic upbringing where Protestant fundamentalists and evangelicals were viewed with suspicion, particularly their rejection of evolution and other matters science that the Catholic Church had found a way to accommodate.  This latent dislike/distrust became much more pronounced once I began studying evangelical "family values" organizations both in my days as a Republican activist and later after I "came out."  What I discovered was that there were few in society more willing to lie and disseminate deliberate falsehoods that the self-anointed who quickly condemn others and seem best defined by their hatred of others.  Fast forward to 2016 and evangelical responsibility for putting Donald Trump - a thoroughly foul and morally bankrupt individual - in the White House.  As Michael Gerson points out in two columns, one in the Washington Post and a far lengthier one in the Atlantic, Trump supporting evangelicals have sold their souls and, more tellingly for the future, have made the term evangelical synonymous with moral bankruptcy and a denigration of what is supposed to be the Gospel message.  Gerson was raised as an evangelical himself, but like me, he puts truth, honesty and morality above partisanship and a self-created martyrdom complex.  He believes that religion - especially Christianity - can be a positive good, while I dissent and view religion as a whole as a negative force in the world.  Trump supporting evangelicals reinforce my negative assessment.  First, these highlights from the Post column:
With their reactions to the Roy Moore candidacy and the Stormy Daniels scandal, the Trump evangelicals have scaled the heights of hypocrisy to the summit. Family-values conservatives who dismiss credible accusations of sexual abuse and wink at hush money for a porn star have ceased to represent family values in any meaningful sense. They have made a national joke of moral standards that were once, presumably, deeply held. At least when a Democrat violated them.
My friend Pete Wehner proposes a thought experiment: If a militant atheist were to design a trap with the goal of discrediting evangelical Christians, could they do better than Moore and Daniels? It would take some consideration.
But this barely scratches the surface of the moral compromises being made. The problem with Trumpism is not only the transparent excuses it offers (and requires others to accept) for shoddy and offensive behavior. As I argue in the Atlantic , the deeper issue is the distinctly non-Christian substance of President Trump’s values. His unapologetic materialism. His tribalism and hatred for “the other.”
The very thing that should repel evangelicals — Trump’s dehumanization of others — is what seems to fascinate and attract some conservative Christians. It is yet another example of discrediting hypocrisy.
Identifying evangelicalism with Trump’s ethno-populism may have some short-term benefits. But public influence eventually depends on the persuasiveness of public arguments. And close ties to Trump will eventually be disastrous to causes that evangelicals care about. Pro-life arguments are discredited by an association with misogyny. Arguments for religious liberty are discredited by association with anti-Muslim bias. Arguments for family values are discredited by nativist disdain for migrant families. Trump evangelicals are blessing the destruction of public norms on civility, decency and the importance of public character.  . . . . . And the ultimate harm is to the reputation of faith itself. 
The far longer piece in The Atlantic looks at the hypocrisy and moral bankruptcy of Trump supporting evangelicals in much more detail.  Here are excerpts:
One of the most extraordinary things about our current politics—really, one of the most extraordinary developments of recent political history—is the loyal adherence of religious conservatives to Donald Trump. The president [Trump] won four-fifths of the votes of white evangelical Christians. This was a higher level of support than either Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush, an outspoken evangelical himself, ever received.
 Trump’s background and beliefs could hardly be more incompatible with traditional Christian models of life and leadership. Trump’s past political stances (he once supported the right to partial-birth abortion), his character (he has bragged about sexually assaulting women), and even his language (he introduced the words pussy and shithole into presidential discourse) would more naturally lead religious conservatives toward exorcism than alliance. This is a man who has cruelly publicized his infidelities, made disturbing sexual comments about his elder daughter, and boasted about the size of his penis on the debate stage. His lawyer reportedly arranged a $130,000 payment to a porn star to dissuade her from disclosing an alleged affair. Yet religious conservatives who once blanched at PG-13 public standards now yawn at such NC-17 maneuvers. We are a long way from The Book of Virtues. [T]he problem is the distinctly non-Christian substance of his values. Trump’s unapologetic materialism—his equation of financial and social success with human achievement and worth—is a negation of Christian teaching. His tribalism and hatred for “the other” stand in direct opposition to Jesus’s radical ethic of neighbor love. Loyalty to Trump has involved progressively more difficult, self-abasing demands. And there appears to be no limit to what some evangelical leaders will endure. Figures such as Falwell and Franklin Graham followed Trump’s lead in supporting Judge Roy Moore in the December Senate election in Alabama. These are religious leaders who have spent their entire adult lives bemoaning cultural and moral decay. Yet they publicly backed a candidate who was repeatedly accused of sexual misconduct, including with a 14-year-old girl. The moral convictions of many evangelical leaders have become a function of their partisan identification. This is not mere gullibility; it is utter corruption. Blinded by political tribalism and hatred for their political opponents, these leaders can’t see how they are undermining the causes to which they once dedicated their lives. Little remains of a distinctly Christian public witness. “ ‘Evangelical’ used to denote people who claimed the high moral ground; now, in popular usage, the word is nearly synonymous with ‘hypocrite.’ ” So it is little wonder that last year the Princeton Evangelical Fellowship, an 87-year-old ministry, dropped the “E word” from its name, becoming the Princeton Christian Fellowship: Too many students had identified the term with conservative political ideology. I was raised in an evangelical home, went to an evangelical church and high school, and began following Christ as a teen. After attending Georgetown University for a year, I transferred to Wheaton College in Illinois—sometimes called “the Harvard of evangelical Protestantism”—where I studied theology. I worked at an evangelical nonprofit, Prison Fellowship, before becoming a staffer for Senator Dan Coats of Indiana (a fellow Wheaton alum). On Capitol Hill, I found many evangelical partners in trying to define a “compassionate conservatism.” And as a policy adviser and the chief speechwriter to President George W. Bush, I saw how evangelical leaders such as Rick and Kay Warren could be principled, tireless advocates in the global fight against aids. Those experiences make me hesitant to abandon the word evangelical. They also make seeing the defilement of that word all the more painful. The corruption of a political party is regrettable. The corruption of a religious tradition by politics is tragic, shaming those who participate in it. How did something so important and admirable become so disgraced? . . . . The answer extends back some 150 years, and involves cultural and political shifts that long pre-date Donald Trump. It is the story of how an influential and culturally confident religious movement became a marginalized and anxious minority seeking political protection under the wing of a man such as Trump, the least traditionally Christian figure—in temperament, behavior, and evident belief—to assume the presidency in living memory. In the years before the Civil War, a connection between moralism and a concern for social justice was generally assumed among Northern evangelicals. They variously militated for temperance, humane treatment of the mentally disabled, and prison reform. But mainly they militated for the end of slavery. . . . . 
 “I rest my opposition to slavery upon the one-bloodism of the New Testament. All men are equal, because they are of one equal blood.” In the mid-19th century, evangelicalism was the predominant religious tradition in Americaa faith assured of its social position, confident in its divine calling, welcoming of progress, and hopeful about the future. Fifty years later, it was losing intellectual and social ground on every front. Twenty-five years beyond that, it had become a national joke.
But it was a series of momentous intellectual developments that most effectively drove a wedge between evangelicalism and elite culture. Higher criticism of the Bible—a scholarly movement out of Germany that picked apart the human sources and development of ancient texts—called into question the roots, accuracy, and historicity of the book that constituted the ultimate source of evangelical authority. At the same time, the theory of evolution advanced a new account of human origin. Advocates of evolution, as well as those who denied it most vigorously, took the theory as an alternative to religious accounts—and in many cases to Christian belief itself.
Religious progressives sought common ground between the Christian faith and the new science and higher criticism. Many combined their faith with the Social Gospel—a postmillennialism drained of the miraculous, with social reform taking the place of the Second Coming.
Religious conservatives, by contrast, rebelled against this strategy of accommodation in a series of firings and heresy trials designed to maintain control of seminaries. (Woodrow Wilson’s uncle James lost his job at Columbia Theological Seminary for accepting evolution as compatible with the Bible.) But these tactics generally backfired, and seminary after seminary, college after college, fell under the influence of modern scientific and cultural assumptions. To contest progressive ideas, the religiously orthodox published a series of books called The Fundamentals. Hence the term fundamentalism, conceived in a spirit of desperate reaction.
In reacting against higher criticism, it became simplistic and overliteral in its reading of scripture. In reacting against evolution, it became anti-scientific in its general orientation. In reacting against the Social Gospel, it came to regard the whole concept of social justice as a dangerous liberal idea. This last point constituted what some scholars have called the “Great Reversal,” which took place from about 1900 to 1930.
The banishment of fundamentalism from the cultural mainstream culminated dramatically in a Tennessee courthouse in 1925. William Jennings Bryan, the most prominent Christian politician of his time, was set against Clarence Darrow and the theory of evolution at the Scopes “monkey trial,” in which a Tennessee educator was tried for teaching the theory in high school. Bryan won the case but not the country.
[T]he primary evangelical political narrative is adversarial, an angry tale about the aggression of evangelicalism’s cultural rivals. In a remarkably free country, many evangelicals view their rights as fragile, their institutions as threatened, and their dignity as assailed. The single largest religious demographic in the United States—representing about half the Republican political coalition—sees itself as a besieged and disrespected minority. . . . This attitude was happily exploited by the modern GOP. Evangelicals who were alienated by the pro-choice secularism of Democratic presidential nominees were effectively courted to join the Reagan coalition.
[M]odern evangelicalism has an important intellectual piece missing. . . . . Catholic social thought includes a commitment to solidarity, whereby justice in a society is measured by the treatment of its weakest and most vulnerable members. . . . If you want to call yourself pro-life on abortion, then you have to oppose the dehumanization of migrants. If you criticize the devaluation of life by euthanasia, then you must criticize the devaluation of life by racism. If you want to be regarded as pro-family, then you have to support access to health care. And vice versa. The doctrinal whole requires a broad, consistent view of justice . . .
Lacking an equivalent to Catholic social thought, many evangelicals seem to find their theory merely by following the contours of the political movement that is currently defending, and exploiting, them. The voter guides of religious conservatives have often been suspiciously similar to the political priorities of movement conservatism. . . . . In this Christian political movement, Christian theology is emphatically not the primary motivating factor.
Plenty of African Americans hold evangelical theological views, of course, along with a growing number of Latinos. Yet evangelical churches, like other churches and houses of worship, tend to be segregated on Sunday. Nearly all denominations with large numbers of evangelicals are less racially diverse than the country overall.
Moreover, in making their case on cultural decay and decline, evangelicals have, in some highly visible cases, chosen the wrong nightmares. Most notable, they made a crucial error in picking evolution as a main point of contention with modernity. . . . their resistance was futile, for one incontrovertible reason: Evolution is a fact. It is objectively true based on overwhelming evidence. By denying this, evangelicals made their entire view of reality suspect. They were insisting, in effect, that the Christian faith requires a flight from reason.
This was foolish and unnecessary. There is no meaningful theological difference between creation by divine intervention and creation by natural selection; both are consistent with belief in a purposeful universe, and with serious interpretation of biblical texts.
The consequences, especially for younger generations, are considerable. According to a recent survey by Barna, a Christian research firm, more than half of churchgoing Christian teens believe that “the church seems to reject much of what science tells us about the world.” This may be one reason that, in America, the youngest age cohorts are the least religiously affiliated, which will change the nation’s baseline of religiosity over time. More than a third of Millennials say they are unaffiliated with any faith, up 10 points since 2007. Count this as an ironic achievement of religious conservatives: an overall decline in identification with religion itself.
[E]vangelicals would prove highly vulnerable to a message of resentful, declinist populism. Donald Trump could almost have been echoing the apocalyptic warnings of Metaxas and Graham when he declared, “Our country’s going to hell.” . . . . Given Trump’s general level of religious knowledge, he likely had no idea that he was adapting premillennialism to populism. But when the candidate talked of an America in decline and headed toward destruction, which could be returned to greatness only by recovering the certainties of the past, he was strumming resonant chords of evangelical conviction.
Trump consistently depicts evangelicals as they depict themselves: a mistreated minority, in need of a defender who plays by worldly rules.
It is remarkable to hear religious leaders defend profanity, ridicule, and cruelty as hallmarks of authenticity and dismiss decency as a dead language. Whatever Trump’s policy legacy ends up being, his presidency has been a disaster in the realm of norms. It has coarsened our culture, given permission for bullying, complicated the moral formation of children, undermined standards of public integrity, and encouraged cynicism about the political enterprise. Falwell, Graham, and others are providing religious cover for moral squalor—winking at trashy behavior and encouraging the unraveling of social restraints. . . . Having given politics pride of place, these evangelical leaders have ceased to be moral leaders in any meaningful sense.
For a package of political benefits, these evangelical leaders have associated the Christian faith with racism and nativism. They have associated the Christian faith with misogyny and the mocking of the disabled. They have associated the Christian faith with lawlessness, corruption, and routine deception. They have associated the Christian faith with moral confusion about the surpassing evils of white supremacy and neo-Nazism. The world is full of tragic choices and compromises. But for this man? For this cause?
The irony may well be that evangelicals will ultimately bear much of the responsibility for the death of Christianity as a majority phenomenon in America.  While the younger generations are fleeing Christianity and religion in general the most rapidly, older generations are beginning to shift away  as well. If this happens, it will be a case of divine justice, so to speak. 

Tuesday Morning Male Beauty

Monday, March 12, 2018

More Monday Male Beauty

Trump Judicial Nominees Seek to Roll Back LGBT Rights

Trump nominee opposes LGBT rights and criticizes the Civil Rights Act of 1964 .

Under the toxic and foul Trump/Pence regime, there is so much destruction being done to regulations that protect public safety, the stability of the banking system, and the legal protections of consumers.  In the dizzying cycles of Trump's latest out rage or the swirling Russiagate investigation, one are that poses a danger to many citizens and LGBT citizens in particular is what Trump is doing to the federal judiciary where he is appointing ideologues and religious zealots to lifetime appointment judge ships.  One pending nominee even has announced hostility to the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  These appointees - which Republican lap dogs in the U.S. Senate are mostly confirming - believe in preferential rights for whites and special rights for Christofascists a majority of whom , in my view, are racists and seek to trample n the religious freedoms of other citizens.  A piece in The Daily Beast raises the alarm about what is happening mostly under the radar.  Here are excerpts:

It’s time to sound the alarm again on another bunch of Trump judges queuing up for confirmation by the U.S. Senate. Like the earlier nominees, they are overwhelmingly white and male. One in three has something explicit in their record and/or their writings that is hostile to LGBTQ rights.
“They’re still fighting over whether same sex couples should have the right to marry and have children,” says Sharon McGowan, director of strategy at Lambda Legal, which litigates on behalf of LGBTQ people. “This is a real concerted effort to take back ground that has been lost not only in the law but in public opinion, by putting people on the court that have these views.”
With just 51 votes needed (and yes, it was the Democrats who changed the rule, back in 2013), the GOP can wave through on mostly partisan votes just about everybody the White House sends up.
The only tool the opposition has is to highlight the worst of the worst, and shame some Republican senators into withdrawing their support. Three nominees withdrew last year after negative media coverage (Jeff Mateer, Bret Talley, and Matthew Petersen). Mateer had called transgender children the “spawn of Satan;” Talley had a taste for the paranormal, and Petersen’s inability to answer basic questions about the law went viral.
Heading the list for this season’s worst of the worst is Kyle Duncan, nominated for the 5th Circuit (Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi) and the “go-to guy for the anti-LGBTQ movement,” says McGowan. “He has spent the last decade plus crafting their arguments and seeking out experts to defend them.” . . . . he has advanced similar arguments against broad-based LGBTQ rights. Duncan says he has a “conscience-based” opposition to what he doesn’t consider “real marriage,” and that he is defending the “age-old bedrock” of traditional marriage.

He was the lawyer advising the North Carolina legislature on its passage of House Bill 2, the so-called bathroom bill, that required people to use the restroom of the gender on their birth certificate. “He recruits experts who say that individuals who have gender identity different from what was assigned at birth are victims of some delusion, and that it’s not a legitimate health situation that science recognizes,” McGowan told The Daily Beast.
All that’s standing between Duncan and a lifetime appointment on the 5th Circuit is a Senate vote. Born in 1972, if confirmed, he could serve 30 or 40 years on the court.
Another nominee with an anti-LGBTQ record awaiting Senate action is Howard Nielson, who turns 50 this year and is teed up for a seat on the federal District Court of Utah. He was part of the legal team in California that defended Proposition 8, a 2008 ballot measure that banned same-sex marriage.
A third nominee, Gordon Giampietro, appeared headed to an easy confirmation as a district judge in Wisconsin until two audio recordings from 2015 surfaced in which he says marriage equality is “against God’s plan,” and LGBTQ people are “troubled” and unfit to be parents. He declares that Justice Anthony Kennedy, the deciding vote on marriage equality in the Supreme Court, “went off the rails years ago.”
He says the new definition of marriage “actually focuses marriage on the sex act. Because if it were simply that we wanted to honor the love of two people, we would allow sons to marry their mothers, brothers to marry their sisters, for example, to get them healthcare.
In online writings that have just surfaced, Giampietro criticizes the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as an “intrusion into private business,” and says that “calls for diversity” are “code for relaxed standards.”
With so much to pay attention to in every news cycle, the steady stream of Trump judges gets overlooked. They shouldn’t get a free pass. “If we don’t protect the courts, the courts won’t protect us,” says McGowan. “We can hold our breath and make it through four years, but these are lifetime appointments.”

Monday Morning Male Beauty

Sunday, March 11, 2018

2018 Hampton Roads Pride Launch - Setting New Records

Numerous state and local elected officials 
Governor Ralph Northam
The husband and I attended the launch party of the 2018 HR Pride project for presenting this year's Pride event which will occur on June 30, 2018 in Norfolk's Town Point Park.  The event was at the Harrison Opera House in Norfolk.  The event has grown larger and larger over the last five years as has the list of sponsors who help fund the festival.  Presenting sponsors will include Decorum Furniture, Newport News Shipbuilding ("NNS"), and WHRO-TV.  Stepping up at a truly amazing level was the City of Norfolk which now realizes that HR Pride and the annual Pride event is helping to make Norfolk in particular, by the region in general much more appealing to corporations and individuals seeking to relocate to a city/region where diversity and inclusion are welcomed.   Not that many years ago, previous mayors and city councils treated the LGBT community as if it were radioactive.  Today, the cities of Norfolk and Virginia Beach (on a much smaller scale than Norfolk), NNS, Virginia's larges corporate employer, numerous banks (one at the $10,000 level), USAA insurance, the CIA and many others all pledged funds to support the pride event which is now Norfolk's largest festival event other than Harborfest.

Politically, the event has also become the place to be seen, at least for Democrats and in attendance were Norfolk school board candidates, at least one congressional candidate.  The host of the event was Pam Northam, First Lady of Virginia.  With her was her husband, Governor Ralph Northam (who gave a much deserved shout out to my husband who does his hair), Congressman Bobby Scott, a number of members of the Virginia House of Delegates and state Senator Lynnwood Lewis, plus the Mayors of Norfolk and Virginia Beach (see the images above).

Perhaps most surprising was a resolution from the Virginia General Assembly - historically a body NOT friendly to the LGBT community - approved by both the Senate and the House of Delegates that recognized Hampton Roads Pride for the work it has done to increase diversity and inclusion, promote the Hampton Roads region of Virginia, and to recognize its 30th anniversary (see the image below).  Many older members of the LGBT community likely never believed that the day would come when such a resolution would ever be forthcoming.

All in all, it was an amazing event and convinced many of us of the old guard, if you will, that our efforts over the years have been worth the effort.   Sadly, in the age of Trump, we must redouble our efforts to make sure that progress continues. 

click image to enlarge