Saturday, July 07, 2018

More Saturday Male Beauty

Making America Unemployed Again

Red denotes counties to be hardest hit.  The darker the red, the greater the harm. 
The last time the United States got itself embroiled in a worldwide trade war was in 1930.  It did not end well for the American economy or for the world economy.  It's one of the lessons of history that the mental midget occupying the White House likely knows nothing about. Ditto for most of his staff and cabinet members who are little more than boot licking sycophants. The irony of the trade war Der Trumpenführer has ignited will fall disproportionately on his base.  China and other countries responding with retaliatory tariffs are targeting Trump supporting counties and states with laser precision. As the Wall Street Journal (read the entire piece) reports:
The [Chinese] retaliatory tariffs will fall especially hard—affecting more than 25% of a county’s economy—in nearly 20% of the counties that voted for Trump, affecting eight million people. Only 3% of the counties that voted for Democrat Hillary Clinton, with a total population of 1.1 million, would be so heavily hit.
The piece has an interactive map where one can check the impact on every county in the United States. In Virginia, Southwest Virginia - Trump country - will be hit the hardest. Do I have any sympathy for the victims of Trump's idiocy?  For the adults, none whatsoever.  But I do feel sadness for children and youths who be harmed by the consequences of those who answered Trump's calls to racism and bigotry. One can only hope that they will come to realize their misfortune tracks to their parents and Trump.  

Among the industries likely brutalized as a result of Trump's peevish, narcissistic desire to "win" are the auto industry and Midwest agriculture concerns.  Many farmers in Iowa who sold their souls to Trump's racist appeals may find themselves losing their farms or at minimum in dire financial straights. Again, I feel little sympathy inasmuch as the harm was self-induced.  A lengthy piece in the New York Times looks at the harm and job loses likely coming to the auto industry - plus the increased costs every American consumer will suffer - all so Trump's ego can be satiated.  May the suffering of his base be swift and extremely painful.  Here are article excerpts:
It used to be a refrain of the Republican faithful that the government shouldn’t be in the business of picking winners and losers where industry and technology are concerned.
As President Trump’s global trade war escalates, with the latest round of tariffs going into effect on Friday, his administration is doing just that. The new wrinkle is that it is no longer clear who is being set up to triumph or fail. Tariffs directed at products from one country — whether that’s steel from Canada and China or cars from Italy — are just as likely to affect American companies and hurt their workers.
The global auto industry relies on supply chains that were built on the free movement of parts and goods. Suppliers, dealers and car manufacturers in the United States and other countries are petrified by the damage that the tariffs could do to their businesses.
The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, a trade group for domestic and foreign automakers with operations in the United States, predicts that a 25 percent tariff on imported cars, the high end of what has been proposed, could increase the average price of a new imported vehicle by $5,800. . . . . increased vehicle costs will lead to fewer sales and less tax receipts, fewer sales will lead to fewer jobs, and those fewer jobs will significantly impact many communities and families across the country,” the alliance warned in its June 27 comments to the Commerce Department.
One of America’s Big Three automakers, Fiat Chrysler, which operates 23 plants and employs 56,000 people in the United States, is an Italian-American company incorporated in the Netherlands with headquarters in Britain. It builds its strong-selling Jeep Renegade model in Italy, China and Brazil. The company stands to lose as much as $866 million in profit, according to one estimate, if a 25 percent tariff on cars from the European Union goes into effect.
Foreign carmakers with factories in America, including BMW and Volvo in South Carolina, Mercedes and Hyundai in Alabama, Subaru in Indiana, plus Toyota and Honda, which operate plants in several states, also stand to suffer, along with all of their suppliers. A study by the Peterson Institute found that 195,000 jobs will be lost if the tariffs are enacted and 624,000 lost if retaliatory tariffs follow.
The prospect of tariff-induced job losses, however, is not just hypothetical. Harley-Davidson, the Wisconsin-based motorcycle maker, could be a bellwether.
Harley sales have been in decline in the United States for years. Its bikes are big, fat, noisy and technologically backward, and the company has been too slow to make the lighter, more modern motorcycles that appeal to younger, more technically sophisticated American buyers. Japanese and European motorcycle makers have excelled at this.
Yet, ironically, sales for Harley-Davidson have been steady in Europe, the company’s second-biggest market, while dropping 8.5 percent in the United States in 2017. Those European sales were helping to support hundreds of workers in the United States, along with assembly plants in Australia, Brazil, India and Thailand.
One of Harley’s rivals, the Iowa-based Polaris, is also considering moving some production to Poland in response to the retaliatory European levies.
Tariffs are like a long train of boxcars; each one is filled with unintended consequences that can knock into the next with devastating consequences. The names on the factories may be foreign, but the workers who stand to lose their jobs are right here in America.

"A Cesspool of Deviancy": More Witnesses Test Jim Jordan Specious Denials

Witnesses indicate Jordan is lying about his knowledge of ongoing sexual abuse. 

Perhaps I should not gloat, but I love seeing morally bankrupt Republicans who willingly prostitute themselves to hate-filled Christian extremists and bloviate about "family values" self-immolate as the get caught up in sex scandals.   A perfect example is former House Speaker Dennis Hastert who was a sexual predator who was ultimate criminally convicted or abuse of your athletes. Another is former Virginia 2nd district congressman Ed Schrock who voted vociferously anti-gay and whined about sharing showers with gays - even as he was seeking gay sex trysts.  There are many other examples, but the one who may soon join the list of men like Hastert and Schrock is Ohio GOP Congressman Jim Jordan. Each time Jordan disclaims any knowledge of the sexual abuse engaged in by his boss, Ohio State wrestling coach Richard Strauss, a new witness appears who disputes his denials.  Now, additional allegations are surfacing which hopefully will ultimately lead to Jordan being driven from office.  A piece in Politico looks at the mushrooming scandal.  Here are excerpts:
New allegations in the Ohio State University sexual abuse scandal are threatening to intensify the political firestorm facing its onetime assistant wrestling coach, powerful GOP Rep. Jim Jordan.
A half-dozen ex-wrestlers told POLITICO they were regularly harassed in their training facility by sexually aggressive men who attended the university or worked there. The voyeurs would masturbate while watching the wrestlers shower or sit in the sauna, or engage in sexual acts in the areas where the athletes trained, the former wrestlers said.
Larkins Hall, the building that housed athletic teams, became such a well-known target that people who frequented it at the time have reminisced in anonymous postings online how easy it was to ogle naked members of the wrestling team.
The situation was so egregious that former wrestling head coach Russ Hellickson would at times have to physically drag the gawkers out of the building, several sources familiar with his actions at the time said. Hellickson also pleaded with the university multiple times to move their athletes to a private facility, the sources said. Jordan served as Hellickson’s No. 2 . . . .
The accusations could exacerbate Jordan’s troubles. He was the wrestling team’s assistant coach from 1986 to 1994 and has adamantly denied knowledge of any sexual abuse. . . . they said he would have had to know about it. One former wrestler told POLITICO he saw Jordan yell at male voyeurs to get out of the sauna, though Jordan’s office refuted this account. Even three wrestlers who defended Jordan said it would have been impossible for him not to notice the pervasive toxic atmosphere surrounding the team.
“Coaching my athletes in Larkins Hall was one of the most difficult things I ever did,” said a former wrestling coach who worked with Jordan but asked not to be named. “It was a cesspool of deviancy. And that’s a whole ’nother story that no one has addressed.”
Multiple former wrestlers have accused Jordan, a National Wrestling Hall of Fame inductee, of being among the faculty members who turned a blind eye to inappropriate behavior by the late Richard Strauss, the university’s former athletic doctor. Strauss allegedly preyed on male students during physicals, groping them to the point of making them ejaculate, according to one nurse who witnessed it and recounted the story in a video produced by alleged victims and obtained by POLITICO.
Ohio State has launched an investigation into Strauss’ behavior. Strauss worked at the university from 1978 to 1998. He killed himself in 2005.
Jordan has become the face of the controversy because of his current high profile as a leader of the hard-line conservative Freedom Caucus. But the Ohio State scandal, which first came to light in April, goes well beyond him.
Now, Jordan is one of the most powerful members of the House and a potential candidate for speaker. . . . He is close with President Donald Trump, who expressed his support for the Ohio Republican on Thursday night.
The controversy will continue next week when Congress returns from its Fourth of July recess, and he is pressed by reporters for more information. . . . But Jordan’s denials have upset several of his former wrestlers, who want him to acknowledge what they felt as victims of sexual abuse.
Dunyasha Yetts, a former champion wrestler at the university, agreed that “sexual abuse” wasn’t used to describe what was occurring. But he accused Jordan of playing word games. Yetts said he was easily the most vocal person on the team to complain about Strauss and the Larkins Hall situation. Yetts claimed he not only told Jordan about Strauss’ behavior, but asked Jordan and Hellickson to confront the doctor with him.
At one point after being injured during his senior year, Yetts said he asked Jordan and Hellickson to come into Strauss’ examination room with him because he didn’t want to be fondled.
The Ohio State scandal — and talk of Jordan specifically — is tearing apart the university’s once tight-knit alumni wrestling network. Jordan’s former wrestlers are now warring publicly, with some accusing him of not doing enough to protect them and others coming to his defense.
DiSabato, however, is only one of several witnesses to have come forward. Even defenders of Jordan told POLITICO that the environment in Larkins Hall was abhorrent. Jordan used to work out with the students and use the sauna with them, even creating his own jocular “King of the Sauna” award at the end of the year for the wrestler who was best at trash talking his opponents and boasting of his successes post-practice. That’s why several wrestlers said it‘s implausible that Jordan didn’t see anything, despite his denials.
University spokesman Benjamin Johnson acknowledged in a statement that Ohio State is “aware of reports that individuals at the university did not respond appropriately during Richard Strauss’ time at Ohio State from 1978-1998” and said the school is investigating.
Again, I hope Jordan goes down. 

Conservative Christianity Has Become an Institution of Intolerance

Trump cheerleader and modern day Pharisee, Franklin Graham.
I apologize for yet another religion related post, but one of the themes of this blog is "thoughts on hypocrisy."  Few groups in contemporary America provide more examples of hypocrisy than "conservative" Christians and evangelical Christians, some 81 % of whom are Trump/Pence supporters. They faithfully attend church services and endlessly condemn "sinners", but seemingly throw the Gospel message in the garbage as they exit the church doors - especially if the targets of their hate are not Caucasians.  Then, all thoughts of the Gospel social message are discarded and one witnesses behavior that suggests a KKK rally or a gathering of  Neo-Nazis.  A piece in Sojourners looks at the total disconnect between what these people claim to believe and their toxic, hypocrisy-filled actions.  Here are highlights:

Countless American Christians spend thousands of dollars traveling to impoverished countries on missions trips, taking photos of themselves surrounded by “locals” and participating in numerous service projects. Reminded of their wealth and privilege, these parishioners will return to their churches and report on the inspiring faith of those who live in squalid conditions, and pay lip service to serving “the least of these.”
But once back in America, these very same Christians will adamantly oppose having “foreigners” as neighbors, loathing the idea that they could possibly be allowed to cross into the border of the United States seeking a better life. So while they post pictures on social media of themselves surrounded by poor children and holding babies they personally cared for, they’ll post nothing about the children and babies being separated from their parents at the border.
Instead, they’ll share rants about the morality of following government-sanctioned laws and reiterate the importance of national security. Meanwhile, they’ll join their congregations and worship a God they claim has lavished unwarranted grace, mercy, forgiveness, and love upon them. Singing lyrics like “I couldn't earn it, and I don't deserve it, still, You give Yourself away, Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God…” 
These same worshippers regarding immigrants, refugees, and foreigners: “they didn’t earn it, they don’t deserve it.” . . . . Praise songs will continue to be sung in honor of a savior whose own family fled to Egypt as refugees.  . . . . But regarding non-Americans who dare to imagine saving their own families by creating a new life in America: “Ban them! Deport them! Build the wall!
This cruel duplicity, whether intentional or not, is how Christianity, a religion espousing charity, morality, love, joy, peace, and kindness, has devolved into an institution of greed, power, hate, racism, violence, oppression, and injustice. For those wanting to follow the ways of Jesus, “Christianity” has become intolerable. It has become the antithesis of the God it claims to represent. For many observers, church services, sermons, hymns, and evangelism has become not only idolatrous — serving a nationalistic agenda rather than God — but even dishonest. Unfathomably contrary to the actions of those who spew it, hordes of Christians say “I love God” but hate immigrants, refugees, and refuse to help the neighbors they are called to unconditionally love. Despite numerous opportunities to prove that Christianity is good for society, generous to the poor, a help for the victimized, and a safe haven for the downtrodden, it has not only failed to do so, but in many cases has contributed to the evils it claims to oppose. Instead of proving to the world that Christianity can prevent and alleviate attacks against humanity, it has fostered them. For many, the religion of “Christianity” has long been this way: a tool used to rationalize and enact slavery, internment camps, incarceration, segregation, xenophobia, gender inequality, racism, violence, oppression, and injustice.
If you feel hurt and upset by all of this, good, because that’s a sign of spiritual awakening.  . . . . Christ’s opponents sought to overcome him through the machinations of political power, a state-run legal system, and populist fear.
To their credit, there have been faithful communities who’ve followed Jesus by resisting evil and passionately defending the cause of the voiceless. Their gospel of good news hasn’t become co-opted by political rhetoric or opportunistic greed, but has been centered on the life and words of Christ. . . . .[Meanwhile] large portions of Christians appearing more like the Pharisees than the Good Samaritans.
As the article notes, there are "good Christians" who do not support the agenda of hate and intolerance that are the hallmarks of evangelical Christians and, of course, the Trump/Pence regime's agenda.  Sadly, too many of these "good Christians" remain silent and do not openly confront and condemn their Pharisee-like co-religionists. 

Saturday Morning Male Beauty

Friday, July 06, 2018

More Friday Male Beauty

Can the Catholic Church ‘Evolve’ on LGBT Rights?

One of the first things I did as I was "coming out" was to leave the Roman Catholic Church.  I did so for my emotional and psychological health - why remain involved in an institution that labels one as “intrinsically disordered” and representative of “strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil”?   And I left despite having been a cradle Catholic who was baptized, confirmed, served as an altar boy for a decade, went to daily mass for years, and rose the the 4th Degree in the Knights of Columbus.  Of course, in retrospect, much of my "dedication" to the Church was a part of my desperate effort to "pray away the gay."  It did not work (and doesn't work) - something that all legitimate medical and mental health associations recognize.  The only thing I achieved was a great deal of self-hate and self-loathing, much due to the fact that I could not change.  I am not alone in my exodus from the Church.  I know numerous gay former Catholics.  Now, younger generations who are LGBT allies are leaving in droves.  A column looks at whether the Church can "evolve" from its 12th century dogma on sex and human sexuality. I am not optimistic.   Throughout its history, money, power and control have been the Church's true highest priorities.  Thus, only massive losses in membership and correspond declines in revenue will prompt change and even then, reactionary bishops and cardinals will drag their feet.  Here are column highlights:

A growing number of Americans now broadly support equal rights for gay, lesbian and transgender people. It’s tempting to view this as inevitable, but less than a decade ago many Democrats, including Barack Obama, didn’t even publicly support same-sex marriage. The speed at which L.G.B.T. rights became a mainstream issue, including for many religious denominations, represents nothing less than a dizzying cultural transformation.
What does this revolution mean for the Catholic Church, an ancient institution that thinks in centuries, and holds a view of human sexuality at odds with the shifting cultural winds?
[L]ast week, the Vatican used “L.G.B.T.” for what is believed to be the first time ever in a document prepared for a major gathering of bishops and young people in October. . . . The document also acknowledges that many young Catholics disagree with the church’s teaching on same-sex marriage. Catholic teaching documents have typically used “homosexual” or referred to those with “homosexual tendencies,” which reduce a person’s multidimensional humanity to the mechanics of sex. Using the L.G.B.T. descriptor, often preferred by many gay, lesbian and transgender people, is a sign of respect. When Pope Francis gave the most famous papal sound bite in history five years ago — “Who am I to judge?” — even his colloquial use of the word “gay” caused a stir in traditional Catholic circles. While the pope has strongly defended church teaching on marriage as exclusively between a man and a woman, he prioritizes listening and personal encounter over finger-wagging denunciations. He’s met with transgender people, and when he spoke privately last month with a Chilean clergy sexual abuse survivor, the pope told him that God made him gay and loved him.
There are other signs of progress. The prominent Jesuit priest and author Rev. James Martin, who has been banned from speaking at some Catholic institutions in the United States simply for encouraging the church to build bridges with L.G.B.T. people, was recently invited to give a keynote address at the Vatican-sponsored World Meeting of Families in Dublin later this summer. At the last gathering in Philadelphia three years ago, the only discussion about L.G.B.T. issues came from celibate gay Catholics who spoke about chastity.
Despite this progress, the Catholic Church must do far more not only to acknowledge the humanity of L.G.B.T. people, but also to recognize most want the same committed, loving relationships as straight couples. After the Supreme Court’s 2015 decision legalizing same-sex marriage, Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago called for “real, not rhetorical” respect for gays and lesbians. The court decision, which he opposed, still offered an opportunity for “mature and serene reflections,” the cardinal wrote. Catholic leaders in the United States should consider studying a proposal made by Bishop Franz-Josef Bode, the vice president of the German bishops’ conference, who has encouraged a thoughtful discussion on whether Catholic clergymen might offer a type of blessing for Catholics in same-sex relationships. “Although ‘marriage for all’ differs clearly from the church’s concept of marriage, it’s now political reality,” the bishop said. “We have to ask ourselves how we’re encountering those who form such relationships, . . . The church’s own language toward L.G.B.T. people is a stumbling block to its professed commitment to human dignity. While the Catholic catechism, which details church teaching, forbids any violence or “unjust discrimination” toward people who are gay or lesbian, it also describes sexual intimacy between them as “intrinsically disordered.” Before he became pope, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger wrote in 1986 that homosexuality represents a “strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil.” 
Many L.G.B.T. Catholics are also forced to live in what the Rev. Bryan Massingale, a Fordham University theologian, calls “the open closet.” This is particularly true at Catholic schools, where in recent years more than 70 L.G.B.T. church employees and Catholic schoolteachers have been fired or lost their jobs in employment disputes. L.G.B.T. Catholic employees have their lives subjected to moral scrutiny in ways heterosexual Catholics never do.
Five years into the Francis papacy, a pope who emphasizes mercy and strikes a more welcoming tone toward L.G.B.T. people is helping to rescue the church from a culture-war Christianity that drives people away. But until the Catholic hierarchy can find more tangible ways to institutionalize a commitment to the rights of gay, lesbian and transgender people, the exodus of Catholics will continue. Surveys show most Catholics support same-sex marriage, and the church’s opposition to L.G.B.T. rights drives young people away.
Those who are raised Catholic are more likely than those raised in any other religion to cite negative religious treatment of gay and lesbian people as the primary reason they leave . . . Firing L.G.B.T. Catholics and using degrading language such as “intrinsically disordered” erode the church’s credibility to speak about justice, love and human dignity.
If the first step toward change is listening, Bishop John Stowe of Lexington, Ky., had it right when he addressed a national gathering of L.G.B.T. Catholics last year. “In a church that has not always valued or welcomed your presence, we need to hear your voices and take seriously your experiences,” he said.  It’s time to make sure that is more than just an applause line.
Don't hold your breath waiting for change.  Should the Church ever change its anti-LGBT policies, I suspect it will be long after my lifetime is over.  Meanwhile, I encourage others to "vote with their feet" and to take the time to have their names removed from Church membership rosters (otherwise they will remain indefinitely and disguise one's departure from the Church).

Trump Is Tearing Down the Wall Between Church and State

As a gay American, once I overcame the brainwashing of my Catholic upbringing, I have come to increasingly view religion as one of the great forces for hate, division, and bloodshed throughout history.  For instance, both Christianity and Islam claim to be peaceful religions, yet the Bible and Koran can be cherry picked to find justification for almost unlimited evils, including war and the persecution of others of other faiths or non-believers in general.  Works of charity more often than not are outweighed by horrors, especially when viewed with the lens of history. This toxicity becomes even worse when religion intertwines itself with government for the purposes of forging a dogma based political agenda or seeking taxpayer support even as the theocrats rail and discriminate against segments of the taxpaying public.  Thomas Jefferson described such forced financial support "sinful and tyrannical."  Despite these realities and founding principles, the Trump/Pence regime is striving to destroy the concept of separation of church and state and merge government policy with the dogma of right wing Christian extremists.  A column in the New York Times looks at this disturbing phenomenon.  Here are excerpts: 
Many Americans were shocked when Attorney General Jeff Sessions turned to the Bible — specifically, Paul’s epistle to the Romans — to justify President Trump’s policy of separating migrant children from their parents. This scriptural justification for a political decision should not have surprised anyone, because Mr. Trump’s administration has consistently treated the separation of church and state as a form of heresy rather than a cherished American value.
Attacks on the wall of separation established by the founders — which the religious right likes to call “a lie of the left” — are nothing new. What has changed under Mr. Trump is the disproportionate political debt he owes to extreme religious conservatives, whose views on church-state issues — ranging from the importance of secular public education to women’s and gay rights — are far removed from the American mainstream.
The very meaning of the phrases “religious liberty” and “religious freedom” . . . . is being altered to mean that government should foster a closer relationship with those who want to mix their Christian faith with taxpayer dollars. This usage can be found in numerous executive orders and speeches by Mr. Trump and his cabinet members. Changes in language have consequences, as the religious right’s successful substitution of “pro-life” for “anti-abortion” has long demonstrated.
[T]he Supreme Court upheld Mr. Trump’s travel ban targeting majority-Muslim countries and struck down a California requirement that anti-abortion, state-licensed pregnancy clinics provide notice to their clients that abortion is an option. These significant rulings were immediately overshadowed by the retirement from the court of the frequent swing voter Anthony M. Kennedy, which now gives Mr. Trump the opportunity to nominate a predictable religious conservative who would most likely support the overturning of Roe v. Wade.
While it is impossible to overstate the long-term importance of the next court appointment, Mr. Sessions and many of his fellow cabinet members offer textbook examples of the everyday perils of entangling religion with politics.
Many pro-immigration religious leaders, including Catholics, Protestants, Jews and Muslims, took umbrage at the biblical justification for a policy that could hardly be described as loving. Their objections, however, were based mainly on the idea that Mr. Sessions had picked the wrong verse.
It was left to secular organizations to identify all religious rationalizations as the fundamental problem. The Center for Inquiry, a secular think tank, and the Freedom From Religion Foundation, on whose honorary boards I serve, issued strong condemnations — as did the Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Rachel Laser, president of Americans United, put it succinctly: “The separation of church and state means that we don’t base public policy on the Bible or any religious book.”
And yet Trump administration officials have used fundamentalist biblical interpretations to support everything from environmental deregulation to tax cuts.
Many evangelical Christians do not share such theocratic fantasies. These evangelicals, like former President Jimmy Carter, are spiritual descendants of Roger Williams, who was banished from the Puritan theocracy of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and founded the first Baptist congregation in colonial America. Williams is also credited as the first person to use the phrase “wall of separation,” in a 1644 response to the theocratic Puritan clergyman John Cotton. . . . Thomas Jefferson used the expression in a famous 1802 letter to a Baptist congregation in Danbury, Conn.
Destructive religious wars in 17th-century Europe, among other factors, had led many Americans to the realization that governments could indeed be threatened by a close identification with religion.
Trump’s appointees seem unconcerned about whether statements praising the godliness of mixing religion and politics will offend secular and many religious Americans.
Ben Carson, the secretary of housing and urban development and a devout Seventh-day Adventist, has described commitment to the separation of church and state as “crap,” prompted by “political correctness.”
Mr. Sessions took on a larger mission last fall when he sent a 25-page memo on “protections for religious liberty” to every federal agency. It warned that government “may not exclude religious organizations as such from secular aid programs, . . .
Last but not least is Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. Ms. DeVos, raised as a strict Calvinist, has devoted much of her life to promoting private and religious schools over public education. . . . In May, Ms. DeVos visited New York City, which has the largest public school system in the country. She did not inspect a single public school. Instead, she stopped by two Orthodox Jewish schools and spoke at a fund-raiser where she was introduced by Cardinal Timothy Michael Dolan. In her speech, she expressed support for tax credits to help pay tuition for private schools.

Regular Americans who ignore this creeping Christofascism at their own risk.  While one may not be gay, non-Christian or seeking an abortion, over time, the Christofascist want to outlaw even things like simple contraception.  With a second Trump appointee on the Supreme Court, the right to personal privacy first enunciated in Griswold v. Connecticut  could even be overturned. 

Friday Morning Male Beauty

Thursday, July 05, 2018

The Exceptionally Bad State of American Workers

Yesterday was the 4th of July and among the supposedly patriotic talk was much bloviating about American exceptionalism - something that I personally view as a factually unsupported myth.  America is currently under the rule of a Republican Party that has maintained power through gerrymandered districts, a constitutional frame work that that disproportionately gives small, backward states too much power in the U.S. Senate, and pathetic levels of voter turnout - Trump won the vote of less than 30% of registered voters. Not what one can call an exceptional system. For American workers things are even worse and will worsen further if the GOP minority has its way and further dismantles unions and worker protections as if pushes to create a new Gilded Age. Indeed, compared to the rest of the developed world, America is exceptional in a negative sense in how poorly its workers are treated even as wealth inequality soars. An article in the Washington Post looks at this undesirable exceptionalism of America that con only be viewed positively by vulture capitalists and their political prostitutes.  Here are article highlights:
The U.S. labor market is hot. Unemployment is at 3.8 percent,level it’s hit only once since the 1960s, and many industries report deep labor shortages. Old theories of what’s wrong with the labor market — such as a lack of people with necessary skills — are dying fast. Earnings are beginning to pick up, and the Federal Reserve envisions a steady regimen of rate hikes.
So why does a large subset of workers continue to feel left behind? We can find some clues in a new 296-page report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), a club of advanced and advancing nations that has long been a top source for international economic data and research. Most of the figures are from 2016 or before, but they reflect underlying features of the economies analyzed that continue today. In particular, the report shows the United States’s unemployed and at-risk workers are getting very little support from the government, and their employed peers are set back by a particularly weak collective-bargaining system.
Those factors have contributed to the United States having a higher level of income inequality and a larger share of low-income residents than almost any other advanced nation. Only Spain and Greece, whose economies have been ravaged by the euro-zone crisis, have more households earning less than half the nation’s median income — an indicator that unusually large numbers of people either are poor or close to being poor.
Joblessness may be low in the United States and employers may be hungry for new hires, but it’s also strikingly easy to lose a job here. An average of 1 in 5 employees lose or leave their jobs each year, and 23.3 percent of workers ages 15 to 64 had been in their job for a year or less in 2016 — higher than all but a handful of countries in the study. . . . . OECD research found that an unusually large amount of job turnover in the United States is due to firing and layoffs, and Labor Department figures show the rate of layoffs and firings hasn’t changed significantly since the research was conducted.
The U.S. ranks at the bottom for employee protection even when mass layoffs are taken into consideration as well, despite the 1988 Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act's requirement that employers give notice 60 days before major plant closings or layoffs.
And when you lose your job in the United States, it’s harder to find another. Fewer than half of displaced workers find a job within a year, the researchers found — that puts the United States near the bottom of the five countries for which the researchers provided recent data.
Even when Americans do find another job, their earnings don’t recover. After four years, displaced workers are still about 6 percent behind their peers in terms of annual earnings. 
These gaps at the lower end of the labor market can be traced back to weak government programs and hamstrung union bargaining, the report says.  . . . The unemployed, in particular, receive relatively little assistance. U.S. unemployment benefits provide less support in the first year of unemployment than those in any other country in the study, and the maximum length of benefits in a typical U.S. state, 26 weeks, is shorter than in all but a handful of countries. In some states, the maximum benefit length is less than half of that.
Only 12 percent of U.S. workers were covered by collective bargaining in 2016 — among all the nations the OECD tracks, only Turkey, Lithuania and South Korea have been lower at any point this millennium.  . . . These collective bargaining and government support systems might have something to do with another report finding as well: Workers’ share of national income dropped about eight percentage points between 1995 and 2013, faster than anywhere but Poland and South Korea over that time.

This aspect of America's false "exceptionalism" is an embarrassment - just like the occupant of the White House.  The first step in changing it is to vote Republicans at all levels out of office.   In Virginia, it also means ending the state's "right to work laws" that allow employees to be fired without notice and for no reason. 

Thursday Morning Male Beauty

Wednesday, July 04, 2018

More Wednesday Male Beauty

United Kingdom to Ban Conversion Therapy

Every legitimate medical and mental health association in America and across the globe has condemned so-called gay "conversion therapy" as ineffectual if not outright dangerous.  Its practitioners are charlatans and frauds, often hiding behind the label of a church affiliated "ministry" in an effort to dodge regulations that increasingly ban licensed therapists from engaging in the fraudulent practice.  Twelve states in America ban it and now the United Kingdom is preparing to ban it nationwide, a huge defeat for Christofascists who use the "choice myth" for propaganda and to rake in money from the gullible.  A piece in The Guardian looks at the movement to ban conversion therapy and to end mistreatment of LGBT citizens.  Here are highlights: 
The government will appoint a national LGBT health adviser and take measures to end so-called conversion therapy as part of a plan to deliver what Theresa May has promised will be “real and lasting change”.
The proposals form part of an action plan published by the Equalities Office on Tuesday. It follows a UK-wide survey of LGBT people that had more than 108,000 responses, billed as the largest study of its kind.
The 30-page plan contains a series of pledges, including to improve the police response to LGBT hate incidents, more support for LGBT students and teachers and improvements to gender identity services for transgender adults.
The proposals, which will receive an initial £4.5m in funding, were welcomed by the campaign groups Stonewall and the LGBT Foundation.
The online poll, which ran from July to October last year, sought views from LGBT and intersex people about their personal experiences and interactions with public services. . . . 68% said they had avoided holding hands in public with a same-sex partner, while 70% said they had at times not been open about their sexual orientation.
In comments released with the plan, the prime minister said the survey had highlighted where more efforts were needed.
The survey found 5% of respondents had been offered and refused types of conversion therapy – discredited techniques often based around religious views that seek to change people’s sexual orientation. Another 2% had undergone such processes.
 The plan promises to end these practices, with the Equalities Office to look into various legislative or non-legislative ways to do so. . . . They are often modelled on mainstream methods of psychotherapy, and sometimes prayer, and are known to be harmful.
All the major UK regulatory bodies for counselling and psychotherapy have banned members from using such methods, as has the NHS. However, a 2015 study by Stonewall found 10% of health and care staff had heard colleagues express the belief that sexuality can be “cured”.
The survey also found 26% of respondents had experienced verbal harassment or other insults in the past year, with many saying they did not report even more serious incidents to the police. New measures to improve the police’s response to such incidents will be proposed.
Penny Mordaunt, the minister for women and equalities, said: “Our action plan is a step towards everyone, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity or sex characteristics, being able to live safe, happy and healthy lives where they can be themselves without fear of discrimination.”
May is to host the annual Downing Street LGBT Pride reception on Tuesday evening. Among the guests for the first time will be Peter Tatchell. The veteran campaigner said May had invited him after he was “banned” previously.
In a separate statement, Tatchell called the action plan a “welcome start”, but said it fell short on issues such as the deportation of LGBT refugees to countries where homophobia was widespread. The £4.5m budget was “derisory and insulting”, he added.
The efforts in the UK are the direct opposite of the agenda of the Trump/Pence regime which seeks to rescind LGBT protections, pander to Christofascists, and grant a license to discriminate against LGBT citizens.

Senate Intelligence Committee: Russia Interfered and Backed Trump

While the Republican controlled House Intelligence Committee proved itself to be little more than a patsy for Donald Trump and claimed that it found no evidence of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, the Senate counterpart found the exact opposite.   In a rebuke to Trump and Denin Nunes' farcical - if not treasonous - committee, the Senate found that (i) Russia had indeed interfered and had backed Trump, and (ii) the intelligence community's conclusion to that effect was accurate.  The take away on today, the 4th of July?  The stooge of a foreign power occupies the White House and is destroying the western alliance and framework that has held Russia in check for 70 years. Frighteningly, Trump's base, which claims to be the most patriotic of Americans, slavishly supports a likely traitor.  The Hill looks at the Senate Committee's conclusions. Here are excerpts:
The Senate Intelligence Committee has unequivocally upheld the conclusion of the intelligence community that Russia developed a "clear preference" for then-candidate Donald Trump in the 2016 election and sought to help him win the White House. 
The assessment, announced in an unclassified summary released Tuesday, represents a direct repudiation of the committee’s counterpart in the House — and of President Trump himself, who has consistently rejected assertions that Moscow sought to bolster his candidacy through its election interference. 
“The Committee has spent the last 16 months reviewing the sources, tradecraft and analytic work underpinning the Intelligence Community Assessment and sees no reason to dispute the conclusions,” said Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) said in a statement
The so-called "intelligence community assessment," or ICA, is a "sound intelligence production," according the Senate panel.
The ICA relied not only on public Russian leadership commentary and state media reports, but also "a body of intelligence reporting to support the assessment that Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for Trump," the committee found. 
Senate investigators also rejected the notion that the ICA was inappropriately influenced by politics, as some of Trump's supporters have alleged. 
In yet another contradiction to Trump allies claims, the Senate panel also found that a piece of Democratic-funded opposition research known as the Steele dossier did not "in any way inform the analysis in the ICA — including the key findings."
All in all, the Senate panel's report was a unflinching contradiction of many of the core claims made by Trump allies in the House. 
The Senate committee is still in the process of preparing the classified report detailing its conclusions about the ICA, which when completed will go through a classification review with an eye towards making a version public.
The Senate panel's overall investigation into Russian election meddling is also still ongoing, with interim reports like this one released on a rolling basis. 

GOP Rep. Jim Jordan Implicated in College Sex-Abuse Scandal

Today's Republican Party is chock full of right wing nut cases and hypocrites of the highest order.  Among the more unhinged, in my view, is GOP Rep. Jim Jordan from Ohio who last eek  hysterically attack Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, accusing him without proof of threatening staffers. A column in the Washington Post described the reality free Jordan as follows: 
The sight of a calm, methodical deputy attorney general, patiently answering an unhinged inquisitor’s accusations (followed by interruptions so Rosenstein couldn’t answer), was bracing. Jordan is the perfect incarnation of the GOP in 2018 — unhinged, bullying, unbound by facts and unconcerned with the norms of democratic government. . . . Democratic House candidates might consider running the Jordan video in their ads.

On his congressional web page, Jordan boasts that  "I am committed to defending the sanctity of marriage and the family. . . . I oppose all attempts to redefine marriage, and I support the right of parents to supervise what their children learn and how they are educated."  Now, it would seem that Jordan in fact cares little about students as he tries to distance himself from a sex abuse scandal that witnesses are saying Jordan had to know about.  One, even has stated that he personally told Jordan of the abuse.  A piece in New York Magazine looks at Jordan's alleged role in the abuse scandal and his Sargent Schultz like attempts at denials and disclaimers.  Here are article highlights:
The horrific scandal involving Larry Nassar, the Michigan State University and U.S. Gymnastics team physician who was convicted of criminal sexual assault against athletes under his care, and was credibly accused of literally hundreds of acts of abuse, has made the risks of sexual misconduct by medical personnel at colleges a huge topic, especially in the Midwest. Those who knew or had reason to know of his misdeeds over the years have been held accountable . . . .
That makes the new allegations being made that prominent conservative U.S. representative Jim Jordan turned a blind eye to sexual abuse of athletes by a team doctor during his long tenure as an assistant wrestling coach at Ohio State University especially explosive right now. 
NBC has the storyRep. Jim Jordan, the powerful Republican congressman from Ohio, is being accused by former wrestlers he coached more than two decades ago at Ohio State University of failing to stop the team doctor from molesting them and other students.
Jordan, who was on the wrestling staff at OSU from 1986 to 1994, before his political career began, is denying that he knew anything about Strauss molesting his athletes.
His denials, however, have been met with skepticism and anger from some former members of the wrestling team.  Three former wrestlers told NBC News that it was common knowledge that Strauss showered regularly with the students and inappropriately touched them during appointments, and said it would have been impossible for Jordan to be unaware; one wrestler said he told Jordan directly about the abuse.
The ex-athletes . . . who spoke to NBC were unanimous in saying that he’s covering up what he knew . . . .
At least one of Strauss’s accusers claims that his misconduct went far beyond the wrestling team, as the Washington Post reports:  [Mike] DiSabato said he was first abused by Strauss at 14 as a high school wrestler. He said he believes Strauss abused 1,000-2,000 young athletes.
Jordan is a pretty big deal in the House these days, as a co-founder of the conservative House Freedom Caucus and a possible candidate for the speakership when Paul Ryan steps down at the end of this year. These accusations are the last thing he needs right now. And his prominence in conservative politics is already generating ferocious counterattacks from the, er, less inhibited precincts of the right-wing media . . . It takes some kind of self-confidence to hear of serious allegations of criminal misconduct that only indirectly involves one of your “team’s” politicians and immediately know for a fact that it’s a “deep state” conspiracy.

My personal thoughts?  Jordan is likely guilty of lying.  "Family values" only matter on the campaign trail when whipping Christofascists into a frenzy. 

Amy Coney Barrett: A Frightening Possible SCOTUS Nominee

Barrett belongs to a right wing group that believes wives should be subservient to their husbands.

Throughout his term on the U.S. Supreme Court the late Antonin Scalia routinely allowed his right wing Catholicism to influence his opinions on the Court, utterly ignoring the warnings of Thomas Jefferson who condemned rulers and judges who imposed their beliefs on all.  Jefferson called such actions "sinful and tyrannical."  Meanwhile, even as he imposed his own beliefs, Scalia pretended to be an "originalist" who sought to channel the intent of the Founding Fathers.  Now, as a column in the  New York Times notes, Trump, a/k/a Der Trumpenführer, may be contemplating nominating an individual who would be Scalia on steroids when it comes to believing her extreme right Catholic beliefs should be binding on all Americans. Equally disturbing is her lack of top credentials and very limited time on the bench - of any court.  Here are column excerpts:
There’s little that President Trump loves more than cementing his supporters’ adoration of him while making his foes squirm. Nominating Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court would do both. She’s not just a staunch conservative over whom Republicans and Democrats would wage a familiar fight. She’s the prompt for an all-out culture war. 
She was one of four finalists interviewed by Trump on Monday, when CBS News, without specifying its source or sources, identified her as one of two leading contenders. The other was Brett Kavanaugh, a judge on the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.
Many conservatives are lobbying ardently on her behalf. . . . Barrett, you see, talks readily and proudly about her Catholicism, making no bones about its presence at the center of her life. She and her husband have seven children, two of whom are adopted. She belongs to a mostly Catholic group, People of Praise, whose members make an especially intense commitment to their faith.
And Republicans . . . They’re setting her up to be a Christian martyr, minus the grisly end, and daring Democrats to take the bait.
The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake sagely sized up the appeal of this dynamic to Trump, writing that it’s “exactly the kind of battle he generally relishes: One that invites his opponents to overreach.” My Times colleague Ross Douthat tweeted that if Trump wants to “trigger the libs,” he’ll nominate Barrett. Douthat further predicted that her nomination “might bring on the culture-war apocalypse.”
In terms of experience, she’d be an atypical nominee. She’d be the only justice on the Supreme Court without the imprimatur of the Ivy League, and there’s little whiff of the coastal elites about her. She did her undergraduate work at Rhodes College in Tennessee and then attended law school at Notre Dame, where she subsequently taught for more than a decade, up until her appointment to the circuit court last year. While she clerked long ago for Justice Antonin Scalia, her own time on the bench is limited to her eight months on that court.
And her Senate confirmation hearings after her nomination for the circuit court made her a hero to conservatives, especially religious ones. They took issue in particular with questions that Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, asked Barrett about whether she could properly separate her fidelity to Catholic tenets from her duty to interpret the law for all Americans.
Barrett should be measured by the legal perspectives that she has articulated in public remarks and scholarly journals. Those have persuaded her backers that she can be depended on to sweep aside Roe v. Wade and to toe the conservative line on other issues. Democrats should be equally convinced, and should confront her, fiercely, on those grounds.
A piece in the Times last year looked at the bizarre quasi-Catholic that Barrett belongs to.  Suffice it to say, it about as far as one can get from mainstream as possible:
Some of the group’s practices would surprise many faithful Catholics. Members of the group swear a lifelong oath of loyalty, called a covenant, to one another, and are assigned and are accountable to a personal adviser, called a “head” for men and a “handmaid” for women. The group teaches that husbands are the heads of their wives and should take authority over the family.
Current and former members say that the heads and handmaids give direction on important decisions, including whom to date or marry, where to live, whether to take a job or buy a home, and how to raise children.
Legal scholars said that such loyalty oaths could raise legitimate questions about a judicial nominee’s independence and impartiality. The scholars said in interviews that while there certainly was no religious test for office, it would have been relevant for the senators to examine what it means for a judicial nominee to make an oath to a group that could wield significant authority over its members’ lives. 
The group believes in prophecy, speaking in tongues and divine healings, staples of Pentecostal churches that some Catholics have also adopted in a movement called charismatic renewal. . . . about 90 percent of its members are Catholic.
To fulfill the group’s communitarian vision, unmarried members are sometimes placed to live in homes with married couples and their children, and members often look to buy or rent homes near other members.
There are some indications that both Ms. Barrett and the People of Praise may have tried to obscure Ms. Barrett’s membership in the group.
Every nominee for the federal bench is required to fill out a detailed questionnaire for the Senate Judiciary Committee. Ms. Barrett did not list any religious affiliations on her questionnaire, though many nominees have in the past.
Sadly, Republicans rubber stamped Barrett's nomination to the 7th Circuit. If she is elevated to the Supreme Court, expect rulings that uphold a Christian version of Sharia law in America.  She is very frightening.