Saturday, July 21, 2018

More Saturday Male Beauty

Episcopal Church: Same-Sex Couples Can Marry Anywhere

Christ & St. Luke, Norfolk, VA.
Again demonstrating that it provides a good alternative for gay Catholics who remain burdened by a hypocrisy-filled, stridently anti-gay Church hierarchy, the Episcopal Church now allows same sex couples to marry in their home parish even if the local diocese remains homophobic.  I have long advised LGBT individuals raised in homophobic religious traditions to walk away and, if they feel compelled to still go to church, to find an LGBT friendly denomination.  Having been raised Catholic, I know too well the soul killing atmosphere of Catholicism.  I opted to leave the Catholic Church and after a stint as an Episcopalian, found a church home in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.  UPI looks at this development in the Episcopal Church.  Here are highlights:
The Episcopal Church removed restrictions on same-sex marriage, a move that allows all couples to wed where they worship, even if their bishop disapproves.
The action came out of discussions at the General Convention, which wrapped up its triennial meeting in Austin, Texas, on Friday.
Same-sex couples are already allowed to marry across most Episcopal Churches in the United States, but a few U.S. dioceses had not permitted religious wedding ceremonies for this type union.
Friday's decision overrides previous decisions by local dioceses to not allow the liturgies, which currently includes eight of the of the nation's 101 Episcopal dioceses -- Albany, N.Y.; Central Florida; Dallas; Florida; North Dakota; Springfield, Ill.; Tennessee; and the Virgin Islands.
No one spoke against the resolution during a short debate by the House of Deputies, the news service affiliated with the Episcopal Church said.
The Rev. Scot McComas, a deputy from the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth, Texas, had told his colleagues if they passed the resolution they would be acting as pastors to all the people of the Episcopal Church.
"For 40 years our LGBT brothers and sisters have been at the back of the bus and, every so often, they are invited to move forward one row at a time," McComas said.  The resolution, while being designed to allow same-sex couples to be married in the church, also does not alienate traditionalists.
Dallas Bishop George Sumner told The Dallas Morning News if the circumstance should arise in his diocese, he would reach out to a neighboring bishop to oversee the ceremony, something that is allowed under the resolution.  "We're probably more traditional than other dioceses in the Episcopal Church," Sumner said. "The convention has given us a space to do that."
"It also preserves the ministry of bishops as chief pastors and teachers in our dioceses," Bauerschmidt said. "We will be working out what it means for our diocese with clergy and congregations in the coming days."

Are Republicans Covering for Trump, or for Themselves?

As a former Republican, I find it disturbing that the GOP now seems fine with covering up Donald Trump's possible collusion with Russia to win the 2016 presidential election due to the flawed Electoral College. In the House of Representatives, Devin Nunes has acted as if he is on Putin's payroll. Other Republicans such as Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell continually look the other way with a wink and a nod as new disturbing information and indictments come from the Mueller investigation. Are they simply covering for Trump, or does the possible treason go deeper?  As a column in the New York Times argues, perhaps Trump is not the only Republican beholden to Russia and/or Russian money, some of which may have been funneled through the National Rifle Association.  The irony, of course, is that most Republicans and the NRA posture and boast of being "patriotic" and supporting "real Americans," yet questions now grow as to their allegiance to Russia.  Here are column excerpts:

Of all the interlocking mysteries of the Trump-Russia scandal, one that I’ve found particularly perplexing is the utter servility of congressional Republicans before a president many of them hate and believe to be compromised by a foreign power.
Yes, I know they’re thrilled about tax cuts and judges. Given how Russia has become a patron of the right globally over the last decade, some Republicans might welcome its intervention into our politics, believing that the Democrats are greater enemies of the Republic. And some are just cowards, afraid of mean tweets or base blowback.
But that doesn’t explain why, for example, Speaker Paul Ryan, a Russia hawk who is retiring in January, allowed his party to torpedo the House Intelligence Committee investigation into Russian interference in the election. Ryan, after all, knows full well who and what Donald Trump is. In a secretly recorded June 2016 conversation about Ukraine, obtained by The Washington Post, the House majority leader, Kevin McCarthy, said, “There’s two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump.” Far from disagreeing, Ryan said, “What’s said in the family stays in the family.” If he were patriotic — or even if he just wanted to set himself up for a comeback should Trump implode — he would have stood up for the rule of law in the Russia inquiry. It’s hard to see what he got in return for choosing not to.
This week, however, a new possibility came into focus. Perhaps, rather than covering for Trump, some Republicans are covering for themselves.
Last Friday, Robert Mueller, the special counsel, indicted 12 members of Russian military intelligence for their interference in the 2016 election. The indictment claims that in August 2016, Guccifer 2.0, a fictitious online persona adopted by the Russian hackers, “received a request for stolen documents from a candidate for the U.S. Congress.” The Russian conspirators obliged, sending “the candidate stolen documents related to the candidate’s opponent.” Congress has, so far, done nothing discernible to find out who this candidate might be.
Then, on Monday, we learned of the arrest of Maria Butina, who is accused of being a Russian agent who infiltrated the National Rifle Association, the most important outside organization in the Republican firmament. Legal filings in the case outline a plan to use the N.R.A. to push the Republican Party in a more pro-Russian direction.
If the N.R.A. as an organization turns out to be compromised, it would shake conservative politics to its foundation. And this is no longer a far-fetched possibility. “I serve on both the Intelligence Committee and the Finance Committee,” Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, told me. “So I have a chance to really look at this through the periscope of both committees. And what I have wondered about for some time is this whole issue of whether the N.R.A. is getting subverted as a Russian asset.” 
This is not a question that Republicans are eager to answer. Before Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee abruptly closed their investigation into Russian election interference, committee Democrats wanted to interview both Butina and Erickson. Their Republican colleagues refused. It is not surprising that Republicans would want to protect the N.R.A. According to an audit obtained by the Center for Responsive Politics, the N.R.A.’s overall spending increased by more than $100 million in 2016. “The explosion in spending came as the N.R.A. poured unprecedented amounts of money into efforts to deliver Donald Trump the White House and help Republicans hold both houses of Congress,” the center wrote.
McClatchy has reported that the F.B.I. is investigating whether Torshin illegally funneled money to the N.R.A. to help Trump. Wyden has also been trying to trace foreign money flowing into the N.R.A., but has found little cooperation from the organization, his Republican colleagues or the Treasury Department.
On Monday, a few hours after news broke of Butina’s arrest, the Treasury Department announced a new rule sparing some tax-exempt groups, including the N.R.A., from having to report their large donors to the I.R.S. Wyden called the move “truly grotesque,” saying it would “make it easier for Russian dark money” to flow into American politics. You might ask who benefits. The answer is: not just Trump.

The Rise of "Revisionist" America

One of the numerous things that drives me to distraction is the ignorance of much of the American population when it comes to know accurate and true history, both of America's own past but perhaps even more so of the world at large. Hand in hand with this phenomenon is the inability of a startling number of Americans to identify countries in the world if given a blank map.  This ignorance sets the stage for revisionist ranging from Neo-Confederates who continue the lie that slavery was not the cause of the American Civil War to the Christofascists who push the myth that America was founded as a "Christian nation." If one is utterly ignorant of history - which too often gets short shrift in American public education -  the stage is set for a population easily duped by demagogues and liars  - a description that applies not only to Neo-Confederates, Christofacsist, and much of the Republican Party, but also to the liar-in-chief in the White House.  A piece in The Atlantic  looks at revisionist history being pushed by Trump and his enablers.  Here are highlights:
H. R. McMaster, Donald Trump’s former national-security adviser, used to warn of the dangers of “revisionist powers.” He had in mind countries like China and Russia that are newly ascendant and determined to amend to their advantage the global status quo: a decades-old, U.S.-led international system of free trade, military and diplomatic alliances, and liberal rules and institutions that govern how countries conduct themselves. But [Trump's] the U.S. president’s recent Europe trip, which whisked him from a confrontational breakfast with the secretary general of NATO to a conciliatory lunch with the president of Russia, made one thing clearer than it’s ever been before: The call is also coming from inside the house. Trump is a revisionist, even if many of his advisers may still conceive of the United States as the world’s leading status-quo power.
Trump’s revisionist streak was on display in Belgium when the president reportedly threatened to reconsider America’s involvement in NATO if the military alliance’s members don’t spend far more on their own defense. When Fox News’s Tucker Carlson questioned this week why the United States should be obligated to defend another NATO member if it came under attack—the commitment at the very heart of the alliance—[Trump] the president shook his head in disbelief and responded, “I understand what you’re saying. I’ve asked the same question … That’s the way it was set up. Don’t forget, I just got here a little more than a year and a half ago.” The implication was that he needed more time to shake things up.
The streak was on display in the United Kingdom, when Trump actively encouraged defection from the European Union by offering Britain a trade deal with the United States only on the condition that it make a clean break with the EU.
“We are cracking down right now on the European Union,” he told The Sun, in reference to the raft of tariffs he has imposed or threatened to impose on the bloc. He argued, as he has since the 1980s, that in certain ways traditional U.S. allies pose a greater threat to the country than longtime adversaries because they are essentially friendly pickpockets: exploiting America’s military protection and preferential treatment on trade to get rich at the expense of the United States. 
And it was on display in Finland, . . . At a joint press conference, [Trump] the American president refused to take Russia to task for interfering in democratic elections, or even to call out any specific instance of Russian bad behavior—be it committing and abetting atrocities in Syria or allegedly ordering the poisoning of a former Russian spy with a nerve agent in Britain. . . . Instead, Trump blamed rotten relations with Russia on “many years of U.S. foolishness. 
But whatever you call it—a reset, strategic renovation, or America First revisionism—Trump’s agenda of upending the international status quo is reorienting the United States as an actor in the world, even if [Trump's] the U.S. president’s ambitious plans have often been frustrated by resistance from his own advisers, Congress, and the inertia of a global system that the United States has invested in for decades. 
And if three of the world’s top powers—the United States, China, and Russia—are all acting like revisionists, that suggests the world is poised to change a whole lot, even as U.S. allies such as the European Union, Canada, and Japan strive to uphold the status quo. . . . At the moment, Europe “is not strong enough to uphold this system by itself,” Belin continued. It “still needs big allies like the U.S.”

Be very afraid.  America and the world is rapidly moving towards the same unstable international framework that set the stage for WWI and WWI - not that Trump and his Fox News viewing base have a clue of how dangerous this path will be.  They merely enjoy being the petulant bully that "shakes things up" with no long view of what they are potentially doing to themselves of the nation.  Ignorance is not always bliss. 

Saturday Morning Male Beauty

Friday, July 20, 2018

More Friday Male Beauty

Republicans Should be Sickened by Trump

Yesterday I got into a bit of a debate on Facebook with some "friends" who are gay and, in my view, remain Republicans.  To me, being gay and supporting today's GOP is akin to a 1930's German Jew supporting the Nazi Party.  Moreover, most of them involved in the "discussion" are younger and don't have the excuse of clinging to the image of what the Republican party was 20 years ago.  Some were in middle school during the period of my GOP activism.  I truly cannot comprehend how someone outwardly intelligent and decent can support a party that is now embodied by Donald Trump, an individual who is not only anathema to respectable moral values but how now seems to be engaged in treason.  It's not that I differ with these individuals politically, its that they seemingly have embraced immorality, open racism, and now treason. I find what they have embraced abhorent, not their "politics."  In a column in the Washington Post, Joe Scarborough, who was a GOP congressman during part of the period of my activism in the GOP is as dumbfounded as I am as to how can support Trump and the hideous thing the GOP has become.  Here are column highlights:

Twenty years later, I am asking my father’s question of the party I once represented in Congress. For if it is true that only 40 percent of Republicans believe the United States should remain in NATO, as recent polling indicates, then who exactly are the other 60 percent?
Were they sleepwalking through history while our North Atlantic allies stood shoulder to shoulder with the United States during that long, twilight struggle against Communist Russia? Have they forgotten that during that Cold War, nothing less than the planet’s survival hung in the balance? Or that it was the North Atlantic alliance that pushed back tirelessly against Kremlin thugs who were trying to undermine the Western democracies? Or that American presidents from Harry S. Truman to George H.W. Bush shared NATO’s mission to free 100 million Eastern Europeans from the cruel grip of a regime that enslaved an entire continent and killed tens of millions of its own people?
Are today’s Republicans now so tribal as to blindly endorse a foreign policy warped by President Trump’s obvious allegiance to a former KGB chief who controls Russia through repression, bribery and political assassination and who has called the collapse of that evil empire the “greatest geopolitical tragedy of the 20th century”?
Exactly who are these people, and what have they done with my party? And how could any American support Trump’s tragically weak performance at Helsinki?
What loyal American would embrace a “Putin First” foreign policy that aligns U.S. interests with a Russian dictator’s goals rather than those long championed by America’s military and intelligence communities?
How can any red-blooded Republican not be repulsed by their commander in chief’s blubbering belief that a former Soviet spy’s cynical lies were as compelling as the clear and convincing evidence presented by the U.S. military community, the CIA and his own director of national intelligence?
It strains credulity to believe that any Republican would be so foolish as to defend the diplomatic debacle that led one European newspaper to call the U.S. president “Putin’s Poodle. Even at home, Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post blasted Trump’s “see-no-evil” approach, and the Wall Street Journal editorialized that Congress needed to develop a containment strategy for both Vladimir Putin and Trump.
If anything can still be shocking three years into Trump’s chaotic political career, it may be that 71 percent of Republicans still support his handling of Russian relations, even after a summit that many considered treasonous. If he were still alive, my rock-ribbed Republican father would be asking who these 71 percent were, and why they were selling out America’s national security in the name of a hapless reality TV host. But there is no good answer to that question. Further speculation over Trump’s disloyalty to the United States or Republicans’ fealty to their dumpy dupe of a demagogue is best left to political historians and the ongoing investigation of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.
[T]he Helsinki summit brought two distressing realities into even sharper focus: The president of the United States is under the thumb of Putin. And the Republican Party he leads no longer deserves to survive.

I concur: today's GOP needs to cease to exist.  It has become something evil and dangerous to America's future. 

Thursday, July 19, 2018

More Thursday Male Beauty

Happy Birthday Douglas! 

The Backlash Against the Civil Rights Movement Continues

A persistent question is why working class and ow income whites continue to vote Republican when the GOP agenda is decidedly against their own best economic interests.   The answer, sadly, can be summarized in one word: racism.  This same racism is what propelled Donald Trump to the White House even though he lost the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes. The phenomenon is akin to what my ahead of her time New Orleans belle grandmother said about poor whites: they needed blacks to be inferior to them to assure that they were not the lowest in the social pecking order. The Civil Rights movement ended much of the ability of these whites to openly discriminate, so now they shortsightedly vote for Republicans who want to slash the social safety net because in their warped minds, it will keep blacks and other non-whites subordinate to them.  Meanwhile, they are the ones benefiting the most from the targeted programs.  It's idiocy, but that is what defines the Trump base in general, racists and seemingly low intellect. A lengthy column in the New York Times looks at the phenomenon.  Here are highlights:

One question that has troubled Democrats for decades is freshly relevant in the Trump-McConnell era: Why do so many voters support elected officials who are determined to cut programs that those same voters rely upon?  Take Kentucky, which has a median household income that ranks 45th out of the 50 states.
Over the past half century, residents of Kentucky have become steadily more reliant on the federal government. In the 1970s, federal programs provided slightly under 10 percent of personal income for Kentucky residents; by 2015, money from programs ranging from welfare and Medicaid to Social Security and Medicare more than doubled to 23 percent as a share of Kentuckians’ personal income.
Twenty years ago, there was only one county (out of 120) in which residents counted on the federal government for at least 40 percent of their personal income. By 2014, 28 counties were at 40 percent or higher.  But as their claims on federal dollars rose, the state’s voters became increasingly conservative. In the 1990s, they began to elect hard right, anti-government politicians determined to cut the programs their constituents were coming to lean on.
Suzanne Mettler, a professor of government at Cornell, describes these developments — which can be found in states across the South, the Mountain West and the Midwest — in her new book, “The Government-Citizen Disconnect.”
Mettler gives the example of the Republican congressman Andy Barr, who “represents the Sixth District, which includes McCreary and Wolfe Counties. In both counties, 52 percent of income — approximately $12,000 per resident — flows from federal social policies.”
In the adjoining Fourth District, Representative Thomas Massie, also a Republican, “resides in Lewis County, in which 43 percent of income comes from federal government transfers.” Massie, Mettler notes, “stridently opposes social welfare spending, having been among the group of Republicans who forced the end of the long tradition of bipartisan cooperation on the farm bill in 2013 because they opposed its inclusion of the food stamp program.”
There is, however, one thread that runs through all the explanations of the shift to the right in Kentucky and elsewhere.
Race, the economists Alberto F. Alesina and Paola Giuliano write “is an extremely important determinant of preferences for redistribution. When the poor are disproportionately concentrated in a racial minority, the majority, ceteris paribus, prefer less redistribution.”
Alesina and Giuliano reach this conclusion based on the “unpleasant but nevertheless widely observed fact that individuals are more generous toward others who are similar to them racially, ethnically, linguistically.”
In their 2004 book, “Fighting Poverty in the U.S. and Europe: A World of Difference,” Alesina and Edward L. Glaeser, an economist at Harvard, found a pronounced pattern in this country: states “with more African-Americans are less generous to the poor.”
This pattern continues today. The states with the lowest ceiling on maximum grants in the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program (which replaced traditional welfare in 1996) are in the region with the highest percentages of African-Americans, the South, and are overwhelmingly represented at the state and federal level by conservative Republicans.
Let’s start with a concept known as “last place aversion.” In a paper by that name, Ilyana Kuziemko, an economist at Princeton, Taly Reich, a professor of marketing at Yale, and Ryan W. Buell and Michael I. Norton, both at Harvard Business School, describe the phenomenon in which relatively low income individuals “oppose redistribution because they fear it might differentially help a ‘last-place’ group to whom they can currently feel superior.” Those thus positioned “exhibit a particular aversion to being in last place, such that a potential drop in rank creates the greatest disutility for those already near the bottom of the distribution.”
Among the findings of this group of researchers: people “making just above the minimum wage are the most likely to oppose its increase.”
Applying last-place aversion theory to means-tested federal programs for the poor reveals that the group most likely to voice opposition is made up of relatively poor whites right above the cutoff level to qualify for such programs.
Even more important than “last place aversion,” though, is the issue of what we might call deservingness: white Americans, more than citizens of other nations, distinguish between those they view as the deserving and the undeserving poor and they are much more willing to support aid for those they see as deserving: themselves.
“Americans believe that the poor are lazy; Europeans believe the poor are unfortunate,” report Alesina and Glaeser. . . . This distinction often translates into a differentiation between poor whites and poor minorities.
Among white respondents, the differences in the responses were striking: More than half, 58 percent, said average Americans got less than they deserved; 28 percent, however, said that African Americans do not get what they deserve.  The difference, Tesler wrote, grows out of a “double standard in deservingness.”
Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s director of the Office of Management and Budget, addressed his view of the division between the deserving and undeserving poor in a column published by the Post and Courier in Charleston, S.C.:  For years, we’ve focused on how we can help Americans receive taxpayer-funded assistance. Under President Trump’s leadership, we’re now looking at how we can respect both those who require assistance and the taxpayers who fund that support. For the first time in a long time, we’re putting taxpayers first. Taking money from someone without an intention to pay it back is not debt. It is theft. This budget makes it clear that we will reverse this larceny.
[A] key factor distinguishing counties that moved in a decisively Republican direction in 2016 was not the absolute number of African-Americans or immigrants, but the rate at which minority populations were growing.
The broader reality is that the Civil Rights revolution of the 1960s unleashed both progress and a backlash that continues to resonate in American politics five decades later. This backlash is in many ways more insidious than the blatant discrimination of the past and potentially more dangerous. It is an object of constant political anxiety for the left and continuous, concerted, calculated manipulation by the right, made more overt by [Trump]the president of the United States, who has dispensed with the dog whistle and picked up a bullhorn.

Indicted Russian Spy Was Also Working to Infiltrate Religious Right

Franklin Graham with Putin.
One of the tactics that Vladimir Putin has used to maintain power has been to bend over backwards to endear himself to the reactionary Russian Orthodox Church which has a centuries long history of supporting autocrats over democracy.  Not surprisingly, Putin's U.S. asset, Donald Trump, followed a similar course and met with a who's who of right wing Christian extremists all the way back in June of 2016 where Trump promised these elements the moon - ending abortion, rescinding gay rights, ending political campaign restrictions on churches, and license to discriminate laws cloaked under the smoke screen of "religious liberty."  Like their Russia counterparts, the Christofascists have closed their eyes to Trumps utter immorality and seemingly will support any foul thing he does. Now, it has come out that Putin wasn't content with Trump's efforts to win Christofascist and evangelical Christian support (the two are often synonymous).  He also had indicted Russian spy, Maria Butina working on direct influence on leading Christian extremist groups.  A piece in New York Magazine looks at this development.  Here are excerpts:

The more we learn about freshly indicted Russian spy suspect Maria Butina, the stranger the 29-year-old Siberian woman’s story becomes. As Eric Levitz explained earlier this week, Butina has had some extracurricular activities that are unusual for a grad student, which is supposedly why she was in the United States to begin with: Previous reporting has suggested that this woman, 29-year-old American University graduate student Maria Butina, tried to broker two separate secret meetings between Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and Russian president Vladimir Putin during the 2016 campaign.
Her apparent associate (or perhaps dupe) in her intelligence operations was U.S. “political operative” Paul Erickson, who was 30 years older than Butina but reportedly lived with her. He’s had his own colorful pre-espionage career, which included Pat Buchanan’s 1992 presidential campaign and a stint as “media advisor” to John Wayne Bobbitt, the man whose wife Lorena famously dis-membered him. In any event, Erickson had lots of useful contacts among U.S. gun activists that Butina, who led a gun-rights group back in Russia, was able to exploit very successfully. Her apparent boss, Russian pol (and Putin ally) Alexander Torshin, attended multiple NRA conventions, and Erickson reportedly hooked him up with Donald Trump Jr. at the 2016 event. He also sought to set up a meeting for Torshin with the mogul himself around that same time. Butina also took advantage of Erickson’s links with the Christian right, as Slate’s Ruth Graham reports, though Torshin had his own relationships in that universe, having attended multiple National Prayer Breakfasts.  In 2016, according to a timeline compiled by the Washington Post, Butina emailed a Prayer Breakfast organizer to suggest that Putin might attend the following year. That didn’t happen, but she and Torshin attended.
Earlier, in 2015, Butina and Erickson also appeared on the radio show of conservative evangelical superstar (and big-time Trump promoter) Eric Metaxas to discuss gun rights and religious freedom — topics that are strangely congruent in the conservative Christian circles in which all these birds flew.
The affection with which many Christian right figures hold Russia and specifically the gay-bashing Putin is hardly a secret, as I noted in 2016: [Putin’s evangelical fan club] includes some pretty big names, like conservative Evangelical leader Franklin Graham, National Organization for Marriage leader Brian Brown, and American Family Association spokesperson Bryan Fischer. In almost every case it has been his distinctive combination of homophobia and Islamophobia that has made Putin one of the Christian right’s favorite international figures.
So there is a U.S. religious constituency that very self-consciously supports Trump’s apparent interest in forming a new world order based on a Washington-Moscow axis, outflanking the decadent, secular, tolerant globalists of Western Europe.
One of the latest tidbits about the rather unusual relationship of Butina and Erickson emerged today in a memorandum from prosecutors asking that she be held without bail, as NBC News reports: In arguing that Butina is a flight risk, prosecutors said her only tie to the U.S. is a “personal relationship” with an unidentified man — which is branded “duplicitous,” suggesting she was using him for her own means. According to The Washington Post, the man’s description matches that of Republican operative Paul Erickson.
“Butina appears to treat it as simply a necessary aspect of her activities,” the memo says. . . . . in papers seized by the FBI, Butina complained about living with U.S. Person 1 and expressed disdain for continuing to cohabitate with U.S. Person 1.”
Yikes. Erickson’s continued freedom may depend on him playing the role of a deceived and spurned lover rather than a collaborator of a foreign spy.

Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe to Star in Expose on Conversion Therapy "Ministries"

One of the biggest lies - although, there are so many lies, that ranking can be challenging - disseminated by Christofascists and many evangelical Christians is that sexual orientation is a "choice" and that gays can "change" and become heterosexual.  As noted in a number of previous posts, there are several reasons for the insistence that sexual orientation is a choice: (i) if being gay is not a choice and is "how God made" some of us, then questions arise as to what other aspects of evangelical Christian dogma is untrue; (ii) the choice myth is employed repeatedly to argue that LGBT citizens need no non-discrimination protections, and (iii) so-called conversion therapy "ministries" are cash cows with families often paying small fortunes to "change" their children.  Every legitimate medical and mental health association in America condemns conversion therapy and states that it doesn't work and is dangerous. Indeed, a growing number of states ban the practice on minors by licensed therapist.  The result is more fraudulent, dangerous and damaging "Christian ministries" peddling the ex-gay myth.   Now, as Rolling Stone reports a new movie, Boy Erased, starring Russell Crowe and Nicole Kidman will be released in November, 2018 (a trailer can be found here). The movie is based on a 2016 book of the same name and will likely paint a very negative picture of the frauds and harm being committed by these "ministries."  This from Rolling Stone:
Boy Erased stars Hedges as Garrard, while Kidman plays his mother and Crowe his father, who also happens to be a Baptist pastor. The trailer offers a glimpse into the psychological and sometimes physical abuse such conversion programs inflict on those forced to attend. . . . The film is based on Garrard Conley’s 2016 memoir of the same name about his experience at a gay conversion therapy program, which he attended at 19 at the behest of his religious parents.

A piece in the Washington Post looked at the book upon which the movie is based.  Here are highlights:

In 2004, when Garrard Conley was 19, he entered a Christian fundamentalist program, Love in Action, to cleanse himself of homosexuality. 
Conley, the only child of his devoutly Baptist parents in small-town Arkansas, had been dramatically outed by a fellow student during his first semester at a small liberal arts college. The timing couldn’t have been worse. His decision to enter the fundamentalist group (known as LIA) came as his father was becoming an ordained Baptist minister.
 [A]although he paints a convincing picture of why the foundation of his loving parents’ religious faith made his fight against homosexuality vital, he leaves the reader wondering why an erudite and intellectually curious young man didn’t find more cracks in that foundation. He does find cracks in the foundation of LIA, which uses a warped version of a 12-step program that replaces addictive behavior such as alcoholism with “sexual deviance,” lumping homosexuality with bestiality and pedophilia. Conley’s close relationship with his mother, who sits vigil with him in a depressing hotel room as he tries to weather the ordeal of LIA, is a tender portrait of that special bond so many gay men and their mothers have: “For the moment, it seemed like the two of us could go on this way forever, living only for literature and each other.” As for Conley’s father, he remains abstruse, despite Conley’s explorations of his abusive childhood. Ultimately their paths diverge. His father is ordained, and Conley rejects LIA.
“God’s voice is no longer there,” Conley writes. “My ex-gay therapists took Him away from me, and no matter how many different churches I attend, I will feel the same dead weight in my chest.” God erased. Let’s hope that the parents still reading “Where Does a Mother Go to Resign?” start reading “Boy Erased” instead.
Parents contemplating placing their child in one of these "ministries" or listening to they false propaganda would be better served - if they truly love their child and are not more focused on themselves and "what will people think" - to find a new religious denomination.  One that is not homophobic and obsessed with selectively cherry picking phrases from the Old Testament to malign and denigrate others.

For the record, I was never placed in a "ex-gay ministry" although I tried more or less for 37 years to pray away the gay and tried some of the conversion therapy gimmicks.  None of it worked.  All I experience was self-hate and psychological and emotional harm that ultimately lead to two serious suicide attempts.  The propaganda that these ministries peddle is very, very dangerous.

Kudos to Kidman and Crowe for taking these roles and hopefully exposing the "change myth" lie. 

Friday Morning Male Beauty

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

More Wednesday Male Beauty

Making the Case that Trump is Guilty of Treason

While Donald Trump is making the ridiculous claim that he "misspoke" during his joint news conference with his apparent handler, Vladimir Putin, his actions since January, 2017, and before, underscore  that there is a basis for saying that Trump is guilty of treason and should suffer all of the legal consequences.  The same may hold for a number of his GOP enablers depending on their levels of knowledge - Mitch McConnell immediately comes to mind.  A piece in the Boston Globe lays out the argument - an argument that should have true American patriots demanding that Congressional Republicans cease their complicity in Trump's misdeeds.  Here are excerpts:

Following the 2016 presidential election, a specter of treason was hovering over Donald Trump because of his response to the mounting evidence that the Russians had intervened to help elect him.
As the president-elect entered the White House, he summarily rejected the conclusion of US intelligence agencies that Russia had engaged in cyberwarfare against the US elections. He worked to block investigations into Russia’s actions. Trump advisers and associates had extensive political and business dealings with the Russian government before and during the 2016 presidential campaign. While there has not been any direct evidence that [Trump] the president-elect was involved in the Russian government’s actions, circumstances suggested that individuals or groups close to [Trump] the president could have aided or known about the Russian meddling.
According to the law, the federal crime of treason is committed by a person “owing allegiance to the United States who . . . adheres to their enemies, giving them aid or comfort.” Misprision (abetting) of treason is committed if a person “having knowledge of the commission of treason conceals and does not disclose” the crime. Today the evidence of Russian cyberattacks against the US democratic process is overwhelming. On July 13, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, a Trump appointee and former Republican senator, stated that “the warning lights are blinking red again,” as they were before the 9/11 attacks, and that “the digital infrastructure that serves this country is literally under attack.” This high-level warning came on the same day Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announced that 12 Russian agents had been indicted for hacking Democratic officials in the 2016 elections by a federal grand jury convened by special counsel Robert Mueller. The Russian attacks began the day after Trump had openly encouraged Russia to hack the e-mails of his opponent. In response to the indictments of Russian agents last week, Trump declined to condemn the cyberattacks, nor did he indicate that he would to defend the country against them. Instead, the White House claimed that the Russian indictments exonerated the president because no Americans were accused of collusion. In the special counsel’s probe, however, four Trump campaign officials have already been charged with criminal conduct relating to the Russian cyberoffensive. Trump’s pre-summit comments implied that he would not use the tools of diplomacy, law, or military technology to defend the United States against continuing Russian cyberattacks. If true, this would be tantamount to giving aid and comfort to an enemy. Three points are being advanced to dismiss using the treason argument.
First, American liberals claim that charging Trump with treason will only play into the hands of his base, which believes that Trump is the victim of a conspiracy by the “deep state” to derail his presidency. This is shortsighted. Trump’s actions are a reflection of weakness in the face of grave threats to US security, the opposite of what one would have expected from a champion of “America First” like Ronald Reagan.
The second argument is that the United States has a history of meddling in foreign politics. This is true. But it does not diminish the need to respond decisively to the grave threat to US national security when a foreign power disrupts our democratic process. Trump continues to dismiss the intervention, encouraging its continuation by doing nothing to defend the country against it. Third, it’s worthwhile to try to improve relations with an adversary. True enough, but not at the expense of US national security. [Trump's] The president’s hostility to the US investigation of Russian cyberattacks, his failure to impose a cost on Russia for the attacks, his denigration of US alliances, and his eagerness to have “an extraordinary relationship” with the Russian leader all point toward giving aid and comfort to an enemy.

American Pharmaceutical Company Keeps HIV Risk High

One of the reasons for America's sky high health care costs is the daily gauging of consumers by large pharmaceutical companies.  Americans pay in some cases, thousands of times more for crucial drugs that cost a relative pittance in other countries.  A prime example is Truvada, the brand name for a type of HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, which is up to 99 percent effective at preventing HIV infection.  The cost in America?  Thanks to the monopoly of Gilead Sciences, over $20,000 per year, far outside the reach of even many affluent individuals even with insurance (assuming carriers do not deny coverage).  The cost elsewhere?  In other countries, a one-month supply of generic Truvada costs less than $6.00. If widely administered, PrEP could largely eliminate HIV/AIDS in America.  But just like the opioid manufacturers behind the crisis in many parts of America, money is Gilead Science's god.  Human lives mean little.  A piece in the New York Times looks at this shocking example of corporate greed.  Here are excerpts:
On July 3, 1981, this newspaper wrote about a “rare cancer” killing gay men in New York and California. . . . Today, after 37 years, we finally have a proven pathway to ending the AIDS epidemic in this country.
The only catch? Poor policy and pharmaceutical price-gouging have blocked the way, making critical drugs a luxury rather than an imperative.
The solution comes in a pill: Taken daily, Truvada, the brand name for a type of pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, is up to 99 percent effective at preventing H.I.V. infection; it also lowers the amount of H.I.V. circulating in infected patients' blood streams. Used as directed, it’s one of the most effective methods of preventing a viral infection ever discovered, as good as the polio vaccine, the miracle of modern medicine. When you combine that protection with the discovery that people with H.I.V. cannot transmit the virus to others once Truvada has suppressed it to undetectable levels, we could be on the verge of a swift end to the epidemic.
Truvada was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2012. But over six years later, the United States is failing miserably in expanding its use. Less than 10 percent of the 1.2 million Americans who might benefit from PrEP are actually getting it. The major reason is quite clear: pricing. With a list price over $20,000 a year, Truvada, the only PrEP drug available in the United States, is simply too expensive to become the public health tool it should be. Gilead Sciences, the company that makes Truvada, maintains a monopoly on the drug domestically. In other countries, a one-month supply of generic Truvada costs less than $6, but Gilead charges Americans, on average, more than $1,600, a markup from the generic of 25,000 percent. Infuriatingly, American taxpayers and private charities — not Gilead — paid for almost all of the clinical research used to develop Truvada as PrEP. Yet the price stays out of reach for millions, and will for at least several more years.
The disparities in PrEP access are astounding: Its use in black and Hispanic populations is a small fraction of that among whites. In the South, where a majority of H.I.V. infections occur, use is half what it is in the Northeast. Women use PrEP at drastically lower rates than men . . .
The ability of PrEP to greatly reduce new H.I.V. infections is no longer in question. In New South Wales, Australia, a program providing free access to PrEP led to a drop in H.I.V. diagnoses in the most vulnerable communities by a third in just six months, one of the fastest declines recorded since the global AIDS crisis began.
So how can we import such progress into the United States? Faced with more than half a decade of inaction by the federal government, activists have developed their own national strategy to begin the end of the H.I.V. epidemic. At the International AIDS Conference later this month, our organization, the PrEP4All Collaboration, will release its plan for a national PrEP program to ensure all Americans who need PrEP can get it.
A critical component of this plan is insisting that federal agencies use their statutory authority to break Gilead’s undeserved monopoly. With low-price, generic Truvada, the cost to cover every American who needs PrEP — including both drug costs and clinical care — would be less than a tenth the amount that the federal government already spends on H.I.V. care. The billions saved could pay for vital services to ensure those who need PrEP the most can get it and those living with H.I.V. can keep the virus suppressed. If the patent on Truvada remains, the plan will cost over $20 billion. Science has delivered answers, but Gilead’s greed and the government’s inaction are keeping it from those who need it most. There’s a pill that stops H.I.V. We can make it possible for everyone who needs that pill to get it.

Gilead's greed is replicated across the medical spectrum and is a prime reason why Americans pay far, far more for healthcare than in any other nation in the world.  We need a single payer system with government negotiation of drug prices. 

Mike Pence: Trump's Accessory in Treason

Both Donald Trump and Mike Pence took oaths to defend and protect the U.S. Constitution and America.  In Pence's case, that oath did not include an oath to blindly follow Trump's lead even when Trump colludes with Vladimir Putin and, basically commits treason.  Despite his sworn oath, Pence  - who postures as a Bible believing Christian who ought to take a sworn oath seriously - Pence remains Trump's water carrier and repeats Trump's lies.   A column in the Washington Post focuses on Pence's hypocrisy and, in my view, just how untrustworthy and duplicitous Pence is in fact.  Here are column highlights:
The best film ever done on the Trump administration is called “The Death of Stalin.” It is a dark but wholly brilliant comedy about how Stalin’s closest henchmen maneuvered for power in the days after the death of their publicly revered but actually despised leader. The only one missing from this movie is Vice President Pence. 

With the possible exception of Lavrenti Beria, Stalin’s homicidal head of the secret police, Pence could play all the other parts. He has just the proper attitude toward President Trump — fawning and patently hypocritical. Like Stalin’s closest aides, he knows his master is a dolt who cannot abide criticism. In Stalin’s case, criticism could be rebutted with a bullet. Trump is more tempered. He merely fires the person.
Following Trump’s fiasco in Helsinki — following, that is, Trump’s praise of Russian President Vladimir Putin and his criticism of his own FBI, following the creation of what seems like a modern-day axis of Putin and Trump, following body language from Trump toward Putin that might have made Melania Trump jealous — Pence came to the president’s defense. 
But that loyalty has to be totally synthetic, no deeper than Stalin’s henchmen toward the old Soviet dictator. They were careerists, looking to succeed the old man or merely to stay alive. Pence is no different. His core identity, he has said, is as a Christian. No one in his or her right mind can say the same for Trump.
[S]ome time ago, I concluded that Trump is crazy. I use the word loosely, but accurately, since his behavior is often bizarre and his language is, shall we say, eccentric. Throughout his life, he has conducted himself in a squalid and dishonest fashion. He is completely incapable of sticking to the truth.
Not so Pence. He has come to represent all the Trump enablers. He now personifies much of the Republican Party, which is either so enthralled by Trump or so intimidated by him that it offers nothing but fealty. Republicans will say almost anything in Trump’s defense, piping up only when some debacle cannot be sidestepped. The separation of migrant families was one example. The Helsinki fiasco is another.
But this moment will pass. Pence has shown the way. He got on the Trump bandwagon early, and he is not getting off. He will ride it, he hopes, into the White House. His hypocrisy, his utter lack of political character and his bland vacuity have come to represent the Republican Party itself.
In “The Death of Stalin,” the functional Pence is played by the marvelous Steve Buscemi as Nikita Khrushchev. He outmaneuvered the others to become the Soviet leader — and then denounced Stalin.  Watch it, Donald.