Saturday, April 20, 2019

More Saturday Male Beauty

Why the Media Dumped Beto for Mayor Pete

I have written in prior posts that the media may again unwittingly help re-elect Trump through its love affair with false equivalency and refusal to expose lying candidates for the liars that they are, preferring to merely parrot what the liars have said.  The other problem is the tendency of reporters to rally to what is "new and fresh" as they try to out scoop each other. For candidates, this can be a good thing yet then morph into something less helpful. A possible case in point is the media's current infatuation with Pete Buttigieg even as its short attention span passes over those over whom they previously gushed about. A column in Politico looks at the phenomenon and the media's fickleness and what Buttigieg will need to do if he wants to remain a media darling.  Here are excerpts:

Burning with the velocity of a prairie fire on a gusty Indiana day, Pete Buttigieg scorched the airwaves, seared the podcasts, and charred the press this week as he ignited his presidential campaign, temporarily torching his Democratic competition in the process.
The secret to Buttigieg’s publicity run was no secret, wrote Matthew Yglesias in Vox. Like Molly Bloom in his favorite novel, Ulysses, he can’t stop saying “yes”—to media invitations. In recent weeks, he’s appeared on a CNN town hall, Ellen, A-list podcasts and Morning Joe, and been featured in New York, POLITICO Magazine, the Atlantic and much more. But saying yes is never enough to hold the press spellbound.
Buttigieg has satisfied the ravenous press corps’ appetite by offering them an entire menu of newish things—no, make that an entire food court of newish things—to write about. He’s the youngest candidate in the field (at 37, he’s the only millennial except for Tulsi Gabbard), he’s gay and married, he’s an Afghan war veteran, he’s a Rhodes scholar (as is Cory Booker, but never mind), he plays a decent piano, he’s a churchgoer, he’s the mayor of the fourth-largest city in Indiana, he once gave a TEDx talk, he worked as a McKinsey consultant, he’s a polymath, he’s as earnest as a preacher, he’s an old person’s idea of what a young person should be like, and he’s figured out how to package progressive ideas as moderate.
The Buttigieg boom has also benefited from the stumbles of our previous political shooting star, Beto O’Rourke. . . . The things that once seemed so appealing about O’Rourke to the press—the generalities, the platitudes, the offhanded charisma, the rolled-up sleeves—seem off-putting now. The clearest sign of the press corps’ O’Rourke infatuation was its routine reference to him by his first name in its stories—something it has moved on to doing with Buttigieg. Such shameful and transparent familiarity.
[T]he press corps has dumped him [O'Rourke] for the Kennedyesque Hoosier like a speed-dater on the rebound from a Tinder relationship gone bad. Its transition to Buttigieg has been seamless, finding in him another candidate who speaks complete sentences, who likes the camera almost as much as it likes him, who subscribes to the usual Democratic articles of faith and scans like a lost episode of The West Wing.
The fear of boredom plagues political reporters. Assigned to a well-known candidate, their first question is, “Haven’t we read this all before?” They crave novelty and newness, for the underexposed over the overexposed, and that prejudice gives relatively unknown candidates a leg up on established ones, especially in the early months of the campaign. Booker and Elizabeth Warren, whom the press once treated as fresh, almost delectable personages a couple of years ago, are now dismissed as known, lackluster quantities.
Candidates benefit from having some triumph over adversity in their résumé. It can be as simple as getting shot down in enemy skies, suffering the premature loss of a loved one, or rising up from poverty. On this score, Buttigieg seems to have let the press corps down. He did come out of the closet at 33 on the op-ed page of the South Bend Tribune, but today deliberately soft-pedaled the event. Smoothed of the standard rough edges, Buttigieg’s life has a soft radiance to it, making him a bit of a walking miracle for journalists who’ve never encountered such a person.
There are two problems with generating political buzz through news coverage, as O’Rourke can tell you. The first is that it’s hard to sustain the note. Having told a candidate’s story, reporters grow bored unless he presents evidence of his viability. . . . They want to see a winner in the making because few reporters really want to write about losers.
The second and more cautionary problem is that after all these years we’ve failed to learn that media infatuations are rarely a good proxy for voter enthusiasm. National political reporters live in a bubble that extends from New York to Washington, which makes them better at taking a colleague’s pulse than a standard-issue voter’s. . . . Voters, on the other hand, move more cautiously, often taking months or a year to sort out the candidates. Reporters are fickle. Voters are loyal.
Finally, whenever national political reporters look at the ambitious, conspicuously educated, ticket-punching, aggressively tame candidate Buttigieg, they can’t help but see themselves. Think of their coverage as modest self-assessments.
Time will tell whether Buttigieg can continue to dazzle the media.

Trump Is More Dangerous Than Ever

Yet a former Republican, Andrew Sullivan, has let loose with a lengthy column in New York Magazine that lays out his revulsion towards Donald Trump and the Mussolini like regime that is being propped up by Republicans who have as little regard for the Constitution as the Vichy French showed for the French Republic as the Nazis invaded France.  Interestingly, Sullivan who formerly threw cold water on talk of impeachment now takes the position that patriotic Americans have a duty to demand the impeachment of Donald Trump. The obstacle, of course, will be the Vichy Republicans in the U.S. Senate who place party and retaining power at any cost above the good of the country, the rule of law, and basic morality. Among the worse offenders are Lindsey Graham and Mitch McConnell who, were their mothers still living, seemingly would sell them into prostitution simply so as to not upset the foul and toxic base of the GOP as they face reelection in 2020.  In his column, Sullivan looks at the obstruction of justice committed by Trump to date and the even worse acts that can be anticipated now that those who restrained him are gone.  Here are column highlights (it ends with the words "impeach Trump now):

Yes, it was worth waiting for. The merit of the Mueller report is that it gives us the whole narrative again, a chance to review the last three years with new perspective and fresh eyes, to get above the daily drizzle of short-attention-span disinformation and lies. First of all, it lays out a foreign government’s extraordinary attempt to corrupt our democratic system — in very close and damning detail.
The Trump campaign had no problem with foreign interference if it could help them, were eager and hopeful it would occur, publicly encouraged it … but never initiated this or followed through. The scale of Moscow’s operation is as remarkable as the lack of evidence that the Trump campaign was actively in on it.
Why the mutual love between Trump and Russia? The answer is over-determined. Trump is an authoritarian; he reveres thugs and bullies and murderers and mobsters; he believes in an economy based on fossil fuels; he has a thing, believe it or not, for cult-worshipping kleptocracies. From Trump’s point of view, what’s not to like? Trump prefers Kim Jong-un to democratic leaders; and Bolsonaro and Duterte over May or Merkel. Putin has said nice things about him; and the CIA worried Trump might be compromised. Of course Trump prefers Putin to his own intelligence services. The idea that Trump could only be pro-Putin because Putin has some dirt on him is silly.
But to my mind, the conspiracy question is far less important than what Mueller discovered on obstruction of justice. Mueller quite rightly notes that obstruction of justice can easily occur even without an underlying crime. And his report, quite simply, is devastating. To be fair to the conspiracy believers, the lies and obstruction and abuse of power would, in most cases, suggest that the president is guilty of something criminal — and was obviously trying to cover it up.
He [Trump] merely had to believe that the investigation would cloud his presidency and subject him to an authority beyond his control. This is something we now know his psyche cannot tolerate. In a contest between his own diseased ego and the rule of law, there has never been any contest.
So of course he lied when he didn’t have to. And of course he tried to kill an investigation that might have embarrassed him, even if it would not convict him of a crime. Mueller spells it all out in agonizing detail.
Once the investigation began, and Trump realized he could be vulnerable on obstruction of justice, he stepped up the obstruction! Of course he did. He instructed White House counsel Don McGahn to get Mueller fired; he engaged in character assassination of potential witnesses; he “launched public attacks on the investigation and individuals involved in it who could possess evidence adverse to [him], while in private, [he] engaged in a series of targeted efforts to control the investigation.” Mueller cites ten separate cases of obstruction. In six of them, he establishes an obstructive act; a link with an official proceeding; and a corrupt intent. Which is to say there is no doubt that this is what Trump did six times. In another case, Mueller found substantial evidence of obstruction.
And then there is Trump’s persistent claim that a president is effectively above the rule of law. This is attorney general William Barr’s belief — that a president has total executive control over the administration of justice and can direct it away from himself for any reason with complete impunity.
The only reason he didn’t get rid of Mueller was because a handful of his underlings — Priebus, McGahn, and Sessions among them — resisted him. And so this is not just about past obstruction; it is about the very high likelihood of future obstruction. It’s about recrafting the rule of law into one where one man controls everything and can do anything he pleases.
All of this is an unprecedented series of impeachable offenses. It is a textbook definition of “high crimes and misdemeanors.” It is the story of a president assaulting the rule of law, attempting to manipulate the justice system, dangling pardons to induce perjury, and reflexively putting his own personal interests — or simply ego — before any interest of the country as a whole. Mueller openly states that his own investigation was thwarted by the president to the extent that the “the justice system’s integrity [was] threatened.” When a president openly threatens the integrity of the justice system, and says he has unlimited power to do so in the future, he not only can be impeached, he must be impeached.
I understand the prudential concerns about this. I share them. I worry about pushing Trump into outright insanity. And I worry that the contemporary GOP is all too happy to create a presidency — as long as it’s theirs — beyond the rule of law.
What are the consequences of not impeaching?
They are, it seems to me, real and immediate. Trump now has a Justice Department run by a loyalist who believes in total executive supremacy, and who has just revealed himself as a man willing to lie and deceive and distort to please his master. Every official who might have restrained this president is gone. There are almost no heads of agencies, and no dissent in the Cabinet. The country is effectively being ruled by a monarch and his court.
Foreign policy has been given to family members. The Fed is being rigged to remove professionals and install loyal toadies. The judiciary is being filled with judges who defer to presidential power in every circumstance. We have a president who only last week told his new acting DHS secretary, Kevin McAleenan, to break the law if necessary to stop asylum seekers from entering the country, and that he’d have his back and pardon him if he got into trouble. In any other time, that alone would demand impeachment. We know now, however, that this is just one instance of a clear pattern of lawlessness.
We also know that [Trump] the president will put his personal ego above even an investigation of an assault by a foreign power against our democracy — a threat far graver than lying under oath about an affair or passively covering up a two-bit robbery (the cause of the last two impeachments). It is a declaration that this president will not stop that foreign meddling from happening again, and will be happy if it helps reelect him. This is, quite simply, intolerable.
We have a president who is an instinctual criminal and liar, who threatens the integrity of our justice system and of our democratic elections, who is incapable of understanding the rule of law, backed by an attorney general who just outright distorted the findings of the special counsel.
What more do we need to know? To refuse to use the one weapon the Founders gave us to remove such a character from office is more than cowardice. It is complicity.
This disgusting man is not just a cancer in the presidency. His presidency is a cancer in our Constitution and way of life. How long do we let this metastasize even further? How long before we take a stand? Mueller has given us the road map. He has done his duty. Now it’s our turn to do ours: “to support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”
There is no qualification in that oath of citizenship. Impeach Trump now.

Saturday Morning Male Beauty

One of my favorites!

Friday, April 19, 2019

More Friday Male Beauty

U.S. Church Membership Plummets Over Past 20 Years

(AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
On the good news front - at least in my opinion - a new Gallup survey indicates that church membership in the USA has plummeted since 1999 from 70% of Americans belonging to a church to only 50%.  Meanwhile, the percentage of U.S. adults with no religious affiliation has jumped from 8% to 19%.  Only 24% of Millennials have any church affiliation which portends a huge problem for churches as older generations die off.  I continue to credit much of the exodus from Christianity in particular to evangelicals and other "conservative" denominations - think Southern Baptists - who have repeatedly demonstrated that hatred of others and rank hypocrisy are synonymous with religion.  With Republicans fully self-prostituting themselves to the Christofascists and pushing to grant them special rights, with luck the exodus will accelerate.  Here are highlights from the Gallup findings:
As Christian and Jewish Americans prepare to celebrate Easter and Passover, respectively, Gallup finds the percentage of Americans who report belonging to a church, synagogue or mosque at an all-time low, averaging 50% in 2018.
U.S. church membership was 70% or higher from 1937 through 1976, falling modestly to an average of 68% in the 1970s through the 1990s. The past 20 years have seen an acceleration in the drop-off, with a 20-percentage-point decline since 1999 and more than half of that change occurring since the start of the current decade.
The decline in church membership mostly reflects the fact that fewer Americans than in the past now have any religious affiliation. However, even those who do identify with a particular religion are less likely to belong to a church or other place of worship than in the past.
Religiosity is strongly related to age, with older Americans far more likely than younger adults to be members of churches. However, church membership has dropped among all generational groups over the past two decades, with declines of roughly 10 percentage points among traditionalists, baby boomers and Generation X.
Most millennials were too young to be polled in 1998-2000. Now that they have reached adulthood, their church membership rates are exceedingly low and appear to be a major factor in the drop in overall U.S. church membership. Just 42% of millennials are members of churches, on average.
The low rates of church membership among millennials conform with the generation's weaker attachment to religion in general. On average, 68% of millennials identify with a religion in the 2016-2018 church membership surveys, while 29% do not. In all other generations, at least 79% have a religious affiliation, with correspondingly lower percentages expressing no faith preference. Not only are millennials less likely than older Americans to identify with a religion, but millennials who are religious are significantly less likely to belong to a church. Fifty-seven percent of religious millennials belong to a church, compared with 65% or more in older generations. [T]he emergence of an increasingly secular generation to replace far more religious older generations suggests the decline in U.S. church membership overall will continue.
[C]hurch attendance has dropped more among Catholics than among Protestants. Consistent with this, the decline in church membership has been greater among Catholics. Twenty years ago, 76% of Catholics belonged to a church; now, 63% do.
Meanwhile, 67% of Protestants, down from 73% in 1998-2000, are members of a church. Much of the decline in Protestant membership is attributable to the increasing percentage of Americans who simply identify their religion as "Christian" rather than as a specific Protestant denomination such as Baptist, Lutheran or Methodist.
Republicans show a relatively modest decline in church membership of eight points since 1998-2000 (from 77% to 69%). In contrast, Democrats show one of the largest subgroup declines, of 23 points, from 71% to 48%. A sharp increase in the proportion of the population with no religious affiliation, a decline in church membership among those who do have a religious preference, and low levels of church membership among millennials are all contributing to the accelerating trend.
The challenge is clear for churches, which depend on loyal and active members to keep them open and thriving. . . . . Church leaders must also grapple with the generational slide away from religion. Millennials are much less likely than their elders to indicate a religious preference, and presumably the nearly one-third of millennials without a religious preference are unlikely to ever join a church.
Another obstacle churches face is Americans' eroding confidence in the institution of organized religion. While organized religion is not the only U.S. institution suffering a loss of confidence, Americans have lost more confidence in it than in most other institutions.
These trends are not just numbers, but play out in the reality that thousands of U.S. churches are closing each year. Religious Americans in the future will likely be faced with fewer options for places of worship, and likely less convenient ones, which could accelerate the decline in membership even more.
Again, in my view, all encouraging news. 

Mueller Report is No Vindication for Trump

Donald Trump continues to make claims that the newly released Mueller Report is a vindication of him and completely exonerates him. The claims - let's call them lies since that is what they are just like most of what Trump says or tweets - simply are not supported by the report which, while not recommending indictments, paint a very ugly picture of Trump and his total corruption.  Meanwhile, seemingly a majority of Republicans want to "move on" and ignore the cesspool that is the Trump White House.  Ditto for evangelical Christians the majority of whom continue to support a man who is the living embodiment of the seven deadly sins and what one would never want one's children to be when adults.  Some former Republicans, thankfully are speaking out and condemning Trump and indirectly those who continue to support his toxic regime.  One is Michael Gerson who lets loose in a column in the Washington Post.  Here are column excerpts:

President Trump’s claim of vindication by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s report depends on some creative thinking. The president, it seems, is not guilty of conspiracy with the Russians to influence the 2016 election. He is only guilty of wishing really, really hard for Russian help and having his fondest desire miraculously granted. On July 27, 2016, Trump made a public plea to the Russians to find Hillary Clinton’s missing emails. “Within approximately five hours of Trump’s statement,” the Mueller report reveals, “GRU [Russian intelligence] officers targeted for the first time Clinton’s personal office.”
This, evidently, doesn’t qualify as conspiracy. But can it really be a coincidence? . . . Whatever the non-collusive reason, Trump is clearly a lucky, lucky man.
What is less clear is how we are to accept a detailed, damning, 448-page moral and political indictment as good news for Trump and his administration. “The Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion,” according to the report. This included a “social media campaign that favored presidential candidate Donald J. Trump” and “computer-intrusion operations” against the Clinton campaign. Though Trump campaign officials didn’t directly coordinate with Russian intelligence activities, they welcomed and rooted for them. More than ever, the 2016 presidential election deserves an asterisk, indicating a serious chance that it was won with foreign help.
Trump, during his campaign and well into his presidency, dismissed this influence as a myth. . . . Trump, it turns out, is perfectly willing to minimize a national security threat for political reasons. But that isn’t conspiracy, either. Just friends helping friends.
The Mueller report documents an atmosphere of routine, rewarded deception at the White House. In one case, after ordering then-White House counsel Donald McGahn to fire Mueller, Trump ordered McGahn to publicly deny that the request to fire Mueller was ever made. (McGahn, to his credit, refused both orders.) In another case, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders lied about the extent of opposition within the FBI to former director James B. Comey. Looking at the tape of her statement, it is remarkable how smoothly she dissembles. Obviously a valued skill in Trump’s orbit.
And the report strongly hints that obstruction of justice took place, even though the Justice Department does not believe the prosecution of such a crime is a legal option during Trump’s term in office.
“Our investigation found multiple acts by the President that were capable of exerting undue influence over . . . investigations . . . . The incidents were often carried out through one-on-one meetings in which the President sought to use his official power outside of usual channels.”
At other times, the effort was not hidden at all: “Many of the president’s acts directed at witnesses, including discouragement of cooperation with the government and suggestions of possible future pardons, occurred in public view.”
The evidence in the report is quite specific. In one instance, Trump “sought to prevent public disclosure of information about the June 9, 2016 meeting between Russians and campaign officials; and he used public forums to attack potential witnesses who might offer adverse information and to praise witnesses who declined to cooperate.”
As I read it, the case for obstruction of justice is strong. And the report takes pains to point out a possible congressional role in examining obstruction claims. “The Constitution does not authorize the President to engage in such conduct, and those actions would transgress the President’s duty to ‘take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.’ ”
[C]ongressional leaders have some major choices ahead.
So: No evidence of direct conspiracy between Trump officials and the Russians, but plenty of evidence of desired conspiracy. And: Limited ways to prosecute Trump for obstruction of justice while he is president, but strong evidence that obstruction was intended and occurred.
Already, Republicans are urging the country to move on. In this case, moving on would ignore and reward corruption on a grand scale.

Friday Morning Male Beauty

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Benedict XVI Ignores the Facts of the Catholic Sex Abuse Crisis

In a prior post I vented on former Pope Benedict XVI's misguided and factually out of touch missive condemning the sexual revolution of the 1960's - and of course gays - for all of the sexual abuse by clergy in the Catholic Church.  Indeed, Benedict's version of the history of sex abuse within the Church is about as fact free as Fox News coverage of Donald Trump.  Facts and the truth simply do not matter with Benedict's main agenda being an attack of modernity and any theologians who do not embrace the Church's 12th century, ignorance based dogma on sex and human sexuality.  A piece in Religion News Service likewise focuses on Benedict's refusal to face factual reality.  Here are excerpts:

The recent essay on clergy sexual abuse by Benedict XVI shows why it was such a good idea for him to resign as pope. In the letter released last week, he shows how out of touch he is with the causes of the abuse crisis.
Fundamentally, Benedict lives in a Platonic world of ideas where facts don’t matter. . . . . sexual abuse was occurring prior to the 1960s [and Vatican II]. The church and America were just better at covering it up.
But Benedict also wants to blame sex abuse on contemporary moral theologians who challenged the church’s traditional, natural law ethics, especially as it applied to sexual ethics. Contemporary moral theology is less rule-based and, rather, takes a more personalistic and relational approach. Challenging the church’s opposition to birth control, as did most theologians, opened the floodgates to all sorts of sexual sins, including child abuse, in his view.
While he was prefect of the Congregation for Doctrine of the Faith from 1981 to 2005, scores of Catholic theologians were fired from seminaries, reprimanded or silenced. Others practiced self-censorship in order to avoid the wrath of Rome.
It is flabbergasting to hear him in his letter complain that respect for due process kept him from dealing with this infestation. Too many scholars bear the scars of his inquisitional approach to dissent in the church. CDF’s procedures — where it acted as accuser, judge and jury — had no concept of contemporary ideas of due process.
It does not matter that no moral theologian can be found who condoned the sexual assault and rape of children. Facts don’t matter.
It does not matter that abusers came not just from the ranks of liberals like Theodore McCarrick but also from conservatives like Marcial Maciel, the founder of the Legion of Christ.
It does not matter that most of the priests who abused in the 1970s were products of an old seminary system that existed before Vatican II, which isolated seminarians from the very men and women with whom they would work and serve. Benedict still considers this the ideal way of preparing priests. Alas, he still wants to blame post-Vatican II theology for all the ills of the contemporary church.
Most importantly, he passes over in silence the truly scandalous failure of the hierarchy to remove abusive priests from ministry where they could abuse again and again. The crisis is not just about the abuse; it is also about the coverup.
Benedict would have done well to keep silent or to have shared his views only with Pope Francis. His message is being used by those who oppose Francis to show what a real pope thinks about sex abuse.
First, you cannot muzzle former popes any more than you can muzzle theologians. All one can do is urge them to exercise prudence in what they say and then let the debate begin.
Second, the church needs to make clear that there is only one pope. A resigned pope should revert to his baptismal name and put aside the white cassock for a black one. He should not be called pope or pope emeritus. Ratzinger has a right to express his opinions, but they have no more magisterial weight than those of any other retired bishop.
Finally, since even dead popes are becoming rallying points for different factions in the church, we should stop canonizing popes so soon after their deaths, lest the canonization be politicized. Perhaps a good rule would be to delay consideration of canonization of a pope until after all the cardinals and bishops he appointed are dead.
John Paul II was hurriedly canonized despite his horrific record in dealing with sexual predators.  Indeed, he protected Marcial Maciel for many years despite volumes of reports on his sexual abuse of both males and females.  John Paul II was hardly saintly. 

It’s Not the Collusion, It’s the Corruption

I have not had an opportunity to read the Mueller Report in full.  However, from those who have read portions, it does not appear to be the complete exoneration that Der Trumpenführer and the key element to remember is that the feds only issue indictments when they believe they have a near slam dunk case.  A failure to find a basis for indictment does not mean that there was lots of questionable  and borderline criminal activity. Plus, one must be mindful of the ridiculous Justice Department position that a sitting president cannot be indicted - something that elevates the presidency to near monarchy status.   Frequent GOP apologist David Brooks - who helped give rise to a Republican Part ythat could nominate someone like Trump - makes the case that the Mueller Report is not good news for Trump and his sycophants  and that some of the findings should be disturbing to thinking, truly patriotic Americans. Here are column highlights:
The Mueller report is like a legal version of a thriller movie in which three malevolent forces are attacking a city all at once. Everybody’s wondering if the three attackers are working together. The report concludes that they weren't, but that doesn’t make the situation any less scary or the threat any less real.
The first force is Donald Trump, who represents a threat to the American systems of governance. Centuries ago our founders created a system of laws and not men. In our system of government there are procedures in place, based on certain values — impartiality, respect for institutions, the idea that a public office is a public trust, not a private bauble.
When Trump appears in the Mueller report, he is often running roughshod over these systems and violating these values. He asks his lawyer to hamper an investigation. He asks his F.B.I. director to take the heat off his allies. He tries to get the relevant investigators fired. I don’t know if his actions meet the legal standard of obstruction of justice, but they certainly meet the common-sense standard of interference with justice.
The second force is Russia. If Trump is a threat to the institutional infrastructure, the Russians are a threat to our informational infrastructure. We knew this already, but it was still startling to see the fact declared so bluntly — that the Russian government interfered in the 2016 election “in sweeping and systematic fashion.”
[I]f a foreign government is attacking the factual record on which democracy runs, it is still a sort of warfare. The Russians are trying to undermine the information we use to converse, and the trust that makes conversation possible.
The third force is Julian Assange and WikiLeaks. They are a threat to our deliberative infrastructure. Any organization needs to be able to hold private conversations in order to deliberate. Whether it is State Department cables or Democratic National Committee emails, WikiLeaks has violated privacy and made it harder for institutions to function.
We’re now in a situation in which some of the worst people on earth get to determine what gets published.
The Mueller report indicates that Trump was not colluding with Russia. But it also shows that working relationships were beginning to be built, through networkers like Paul Manafort, Donald Trump Jr. and Roger Stone. More important, it shows that many of the Trumpists, the Russians and the WikiLeaks crowd all understood that they were somehow adjacent actors in the same project.
I would say that’s the report’s central importance. We are being threatened in a very distinct way. The infrastructure of the society is under threat — the procedures that shape government, the credibility of information, the privacy rules that make deliberation possible. . . . . It is as if somebody is inserting acids into a body that eats away at the ligaments and the tendons.
These forces are motivated by self-interest, but their common feature is an operational nihilism. They are trying to sow disorder at the foundation of society. The goal is not really to convert anybody to a cause; it is to create cynicism and disruption that will open up the space to grab what you want to grab. They rig the system and then tell everybody, “The system is rigged!” And therefore, all values are suspended. Everything is permitted.
The system more or less held this time. But that’s just because people around Trump often refused to do what he told them to do. And we happened to have Robert Mueller, who seems to be a fair referee.
The Justice Department has not been defended from political assault. William Barr’s news conference before the report’s release eroded any claim to impartiality and trustworthiness.
Trump doesn’t seem to have any notion of loyalty to an office. All power in his eye is personal power, and the government is there to serve his Sun God self. He’ll continue to trample the proper systems of government.
It’s easy to recognize when you are attacked head-on. But the U.S. is being attacked from below, at the level of the foundations we take for granted.

Pence, Buttigieg and the Debate Over Fraudulent "Conversion Therapy"

Throughout the life of this blog I have consistently and vigorously condemned so-called gay "conversion therapy" and those who support it and work to continue the myth that gays can "change" if they want to. I myself was never subjected to a formal conversion therapy regime which involves psychological - and sometimes physical - abuse. I did however, fall for Catholicism's lie that one can "pray away the gay" and I know the self-hatred and suicidal thoughts (and actions) that failure to change can bring about. I've also known many who were subjected to these fraudulent therapies - usually against their will - who suffered greatly and still bear psychological scars to this day and none of them successfully "changed" their sexual orientation.  The practice needs to be banned nationwide.  Now, the candidacy of Pete Buttigieg has brought conversion therapy and the vicious (but financially and politically lucrative) anti-gay agenda of evangelicals  to the forefront, embodied in the person of Mike Pence (and his wife) who make little effort to hide their animus towards LGBT Americans.  A piece in the Washington Post looks at Pence's anti-gay actions over the years and his failure to ever condemn conversion therapy and its advocates who are among his strongest political allies.  Here are article highlights:

It’s a Hoosier rumble!  Democratic presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg has been calling out Vice President Pence for what he views as animus against gay rights. Buttigieg came out as gay when Pence was still governor of Indiana, after the two had tangled over Pence’s signing of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). The law was signed in March 2015, and Buttigieg came out in June of that year.
Some advocates of the RFRA expressly said that it would allow businesses to refuse to support same-sex marriages, something Pence denied at the time, saying it only provided a mechanism for plaintiffs to challenge government actions or activities that threaten their beliefs.
[I]n response to the outcry over the law, Indiana lawmakers amended it to clarify that it did not authorize discrimination against gays. Then Pence came under attack from conservatives for caving.
Buttigieg’s attacks have revived one of the most persistent complaints about Pence’s attitude toward gays — that he supposedly backed funding for conversion therapy, also known as “reparative therapy” or “sexual orientation change efforts” (SOCE). CNN, for instance, said Pence “signaled support” for such funding in its report on Buttigieg’s speech to the LGBTQ Victory Fund.
An American Psychological Association task force in 2009 extensively analyzed peer-reviewed literature and concluded that such methods were unlikely to be successful and could harm patients; 16 states and the District of Columbia have acted to ban such therapy.
Buttigieg’s staff insists that he’s not trying to raise the issue, saying his remarks on Pence are tied to the dispute over the RFRA. . . . . “I don’t know what he believes about conversion therapy because he has never given a straight one.”  So what has Pence said?
There is little dispute that Pence has long been a skeptic of laws that seek to expand gay rights. He opposed same-sex marriage and supported a constitutional amendment that would have defined marriage as between a man and a woman. He opposed a law that would prohibit discrimination against LGBT people in the workplace. He opposed the repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” military policy that prohibited soldiers from openly identifying as gay.
But the claim of supporting conversion therapy does not come from anything Pence ever said. Instead, it stems from an old campaign website that can only be found on the Wayback Machine. Nineteen years ago, when running for Congress, the Pence campaign website offered a “guide to renewing the American Dream.” . . . . In the section titled “Strengthening the American Family,” there are three items regarding gay rights:
Congress should oppose any effort to put gay and lesbian relationships on an equal legal status with heterosexual marriage.
Congress should oppose any effort to recognize homosexual’s as a "discreet and insular minority" entitled to the protection of anti-discrimination laws similar to those extended to women and ethnic minorities.
Congress should support the reauthorization of the Ryan White Care Act only after completion of an audit to ensure that federal dollars were no longer being given to organizations that celebrate and encourage the types of behaviors that facilitate the spreading of the HIV virus. Resources should be directed toward those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior.
As far as we can tell, references to Pence supporting conversion therapy began in 2015, after the fracas over RFRA, when they were circulated by the Indiana Democratic Party. News releases claimed Pence supported an “off-the-cuff endorsement for ex-gay conversion therapy,” without explaining that the language came from a campaign website.
We can find no evidence that Pence ever expressed support for conversion therapy. But neither can we find evidence that he has rejected it in his own words, as opposed to a spokesman. He has spoken at the Value Voters Summit, sponsored by the Family Research Council, which still advocates SOCE techniques and argues the APA study actually supports use of such practices. Micah Clark, who serves as executive director of the American Family Association of Indiana and opposes efforts to ban SOCE, stood behind Pence when he signed the RFRA.
Pence could certainly settle this conundrum if he has rejected such therapies in his own words, rather than through a spokesman. Then there would no longer be any question.
Do not hold your breath waiting for Pence to condemn the practice and the harm it does to so many. He remains the political whore of all the hate groups that continue to advocate for the false therapy and who push the GOP to retain, if not ramp up, its anti-LGBT agenda. Meanwhile, the Trump/Pence regime is waging a relentless war on LGBT Americans, especially those who are transgender.

Thursday Morning Male Beauty

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

More Wednesday Male Beauty

Why is Pete Buttigieg so Popular?

While he may yet prove to be a flash in the pan or merely the flavor of the week, Pete Buttigieg's surprising success to date and ranking as in third place in two polls looking at 2020 Democrat presidential nominee contenders has some scratching their heads.  This has certainly got to be the case of some sitting U.S. senators, both male and female who find themselves struggling much harder to gain traction. There are various theories which only time will prove right or wrong, but running beneath Buttigieg's current success is a yearning for someone fresh and most importantly unflappable enough to go toe to toe with the vile and truth and veracity challenged Donald Trump.  Personally, I do not think Sanders or Warren can defeat Trump no matter how much I may like some of their ideas.  A similar concern applies to other announced contenders.  A piece in the Washington Post looks at some of the theories on Buttigieg to date.  Here re article highlights:

On paper, Pete Buttigieg doesn’t seem like a high-profile presidential candidate. But somehow, the mayor of South Bend, Ind., has become a serious political force.
An April Monmouth University poll of likely Iowa Democratic caucus attendees found Buttigieg in third place behind some of the biggest names in Democratic politics: former vice president Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). Even when you factor in the poll’s margin of error, he is at least running even with sitting senators.
An April St. Anselm poll of Democratic voters in another crucial early-voting state, New Hampshire, found Buttigieg in third place as well. And The Fix’s Aaron Blake pointed out that Buttigieg outraised four sitting senators in the first three months of this year, even as he spent less than his competitors to get his name out there.
Before we go any further, it’s worth noting it’s still very early in the campaign. “I can’t tell if he’s the latest flavor of the month or the week or he’s got staying power,” said Jim Manley, a Democratic strategist. “I honestly think it remains to be seen whether he goes the distance or not.”
But even so, the passion for “Mayor Pete” — and the speed at which it developed — is notable. How is he doing it?
[H]ere are some theories, partly informed by dozens of emails from readers of The 5-Minute Fix newsletter, about why this mayor of a town most of his supporters have probably never been to is exciting so many people.
1. Buttigieg is a novelty for Democrats. There are four senators from the Northeast running for president. By contrast, Buttigieg is from the Midwest, he’s a veteran who served in Afghanistan, and he unapologetically talks about his Christian faith in a way that helps voters feel like the Republican Party is not the only one with a claim to talk about faith.
2. There are aspects of his profile that excite more liberal members of the party. Like the fact he’s 37 and openly gay. (He came out as gay while mayor.) If he were to win, he would be both the first openly gay president and the youngest president ever. “[A]s a millennial myself, this means a great deal to me,” Joe Perin, a 25-year-old Indianapolis resident, said of Buttigieg’s age in an email to The Fix. “We have, until this point, been completely subject to the actions and decisions of older generations.”
3. The Democratic Party has been without a clear leader since President Trump won. So why not look to someone outside Washington?
4. Buttigieg is a candidate some Democrats could see taking on Trump successfully. Talk to any Democratic voter, and they’ll tell you they want, above all else, a candidate to defeat Trump. Buttigieg seems to fit the ideal profile for some Democrats for a few reasons. His policies are still in broad outlines, but he appears to have a more centrist economic worldview than Sanders or Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who some Democrats worry might turn off swing voters.
“He seems pretty unflappable,” Pamela from California said in an email to The Fix. “He seems to be the type who can let it slide off and not engage.”
And Buttigieg is a white man. There is evidence that some Democratic voters are, fairly or not, skittish of electing another woman to run against Trump after Hillary Clinton lost to him.
5. Voters say he’s got the intangibles. Why does Buttigieg appear more popular right now than another young hotshot politician running for president, former congressman Beto O’Rourke? Voters who shared their thoughts with The Fix said Buttigieg has a calm personality, an ease on the biggest stage possible and a direct, eloquent way of speaking that has earned him comparisons to a young Barack Obama.
“Obama campaigned on hope, and Trump campaigned on fear. I think Mayor Pete may campaign on ‘care.’ ”
This is all a snapshot in time. There’s a long campaign ahead, and Buttigieg is untested at the highest level of politics. But how he handles those tests is worth watching given how well received the early days of his campaign have been.
Being free of Washington, DC, baggage may also be one of his attractions.

Wednesday Morning Male Beauty

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Notre Dame: A Cathedral for a Fragile Age

Like many across the globe I was shocked and deeply saddened by the horrific fire at Notre Dame de Paris which has sat on the  Île de la Cité  - the historic heart of Paris in the middle of the River Seine - for 850 years.  Paris is perhaps my favorite city in the world. Part of my attachment to Paris and France may stem from the part of me that descends from French immigrants who ultimately settled in New Orleans.  Part may stem from my frequent visits to Paris years ago on business trips and more recently on pleasure trips, the last taking place last September.  Another part my come from the realization that without France, Yorktown might have been lost.  Visit the Yorktown Revolutionary War Museum and you are reminded that it was a joint American-French army that defeated the British after the French fleet had driven away British reinforcements.

Whatever the allure, on every trip to Paris, I'd visit Notre Dame or walk by it.  It seemed immortal and a forever constant. With luck, the French will restore Notre Dame and also restore that nation's national unity which has been frayed by far right forces and Russian meddling akin to what America suffered.  A piece in the New York Times also suggests that the cathedral and French culture and French Enlightenment - a strong source for the Founding Fathers - may remind Americans of what has been lost but is capable of being restored in its own society.   Here are column excerpts:
Kilometer Zero: Notre-Dame de Paris, the place from which distance in France is measured, the reference of a people, the starting point and endpoint, the “epicenter,” as President Emmanuel Macron put it. That is why so many people, religious or not, were in tears as the great cathedral burned. A part of themselves, their bearings, was aflame.
Ransacked during the revolution in an anticlerical frenzy, restored and rebuilt during the 19th century after tempers cooled, site of imperial coronation, national liberation and presidential funerals, Notre-Dame became the nation’s soul, the place where France could reconcile its turbulent history, the monarchical and the republican, the religious and the secular.
What is Paris after all? Beauty. The horror of it lay in watching beauty burn, the delicate spire toppling into an inferno of 800-year-old beams. Here was the best of humankind, as powerful an expression as exists of the sacred, going up in black smoke.
In a time of anxiety, of ugliness and hatred and lies, the blaze felt ominous. “Beauty is truth, truth beauty,” John Keats wrote, and that is “all ye need to know.”
A friend in Paris, Sarah Cleveland, wrote to me: “It was strangely quiet and still, as if people were in a trance, watching the fire boil inside the shell of the cathedral walls, like a caldron. The scene was solemn, reverent. Hopeless. It seemed impossible that something so monumental could be so fragile.”
Civilization is fragile. Democracy is fragile, like that spire. It is impossible today, it is dangerous, to ignore that. When a universal reference goes up in smoke, an abyss opens up.
Notre-Dame is a sanctuary, in a time when the American president spits on sanctuaries and has considered, as punishment, dumping poor migrants in those cities that dare to call themselves by that name.
Our Lady of Paris is still there after the blaze, with her towers, roofless now. President Macron vowed to rebuild the cathedral. Money is pouring in. The French president was dignified, a reminder of the unifying power of dignity at a time when it has vanished from the White House.
Notre-Dame, Macron said, is “our history” and “our imaginary”: a means, in other words, to remember and an inspiration to all who aspire for something transcendent, beyond self. The contribution of President Trump, for whom self is all, was to suggest sending “flying water tankers” to douse the cathedral. His advice was ignored.
Perhaps, for an American, the closest thing to Notre-Dame, in its power to represent the nation, is the Statue of Liberty, work of a French sculptor. A mist hung over the water the other day, with the magical result that the torch of liberty hovered in the air, apparently detached. Seeing it, I imagined Emma Lazarus’s poem rewritten for the age of Trump:
Give me your despots, your rich,Your vulgar tax evaders yearning to flee,The depraved and debauched that itchTo steal, I will make them free.Send these, the dishonorable, to watchHow easy it is to corrupt like me.
I don’t recall French civilization feeling so important in my lifetime. It’s what we have. There will be ugly polemics over the coming weeks, once the first shock passes, over who was responsible, how this disaster happened, what negligence was involved.
But in those silent, reverent, hymn-singing crowds on the streets of Paris, I also saw the possibility of a French coming-together in the determination to rebuild — not only the cathedral, but also a nation shaken by the violence of the Yellow Vest movement and the social divisions it reflects. The story of Notre-Dame is a story of endurance and rebirth.
It is also a story of European civilization. Notre-Dame survived Hitler, just. Its fragility, now demonstrated, demands Europe’s unity, too.
Here at home, Trump and many in the GOP have been destroying America's institutions just as thoroughly as yesterday's fire destroyed the roof of Notre Dame cathedral.  All of us must vow to rebuild those endangered institutions and protect them from Trump and those who would destroy them.  Just as the French will set about restoring Notre Dame.

More Tuesday Male Beauty

Will the Media Be Trump's Accomplice Again in 2020?

There have been many post mortems of the 2016 presidential election, some of which have been, in my view wrong - especially those who down played racism as a motivating factor for Trump voters - and some that looked at the irresponsible coverage cranked out by far too many in the media, many driven by laziness or idiotic false equivalency.  When one candidate lies repeatedly while the opponent  has science and fact based positions, a responsible journalist doesn't treat them the same and should not allow the lies to go unchallenged and unexposed. Yet we saw that again and again in 2016 - and again in 2018 during the midterms - where Trump and GOP lies were treated as if they were true and were reported as if they had equal merit with legitimate policies and positions. The other failing was the constant reporting on Trump's efforts to draw attention and cause media circuses to distract when negative stories were surfacing.  Something Trump is doing at the moment as the release of the Mueller report nears.  Sadly, many in the media seemingly have learned nothing.  A piece in the New York Times I bookmarked in January lays out how critical it is for the responsible media (which excludes Fox News) not to repeat the same mistakes.  Here are highlights:
“Pocahontas” won’t be lonely for long. As other Democrats join Elizabeth Warren in the contest for the party’s presidential nomination, President Trump will assign them their own nicknames, different from hers but just as derisive. There’s no doubt.
But how much heed will we in the media pay to this stupidity? Will we sprint to Beto O’Rourke, Cory Booker or Mike Bloomberg for a reaction to what Trump just called one of them and then rush back to him for his response to that response? Or will we note Trump’s latest nonsense only briefly and pivot to matters more consequential?
That’s a specific question but also an overarching one — about the degree to which we’ll let him set the terms of the 2020 presidential campaign, about our appetite for antics versus substance, and about whether we’ll repeat the mistakes that we made in 2016 and continued to make during the first stages of his presidency. There were plenty.
With the dawn of 2019 and the acceleration of potential Democratic candidates’ preparations for presidential bids, we have a chance to do things differently than we did the last time around — to redeem ourselves.
Our success or failure will affect our stature at a time of rickety public trust in us. It will raise or lower the temperature of civic discourse, which is perilously hot. Above all, it will have an impact on who takes the oath of office in January 2021. Democracies don’t just get the leaders they deserve. They get the leaders who make it through whatever obstacle course — and thrive in whatever atmosphere — their media has created.
“The shadow of what we did last time looms over this next time,” the former CBS newsman Dan Rather, who has covered more than half a century of presidential elections, told me. And what we did last time was emphasize the sound and the fury, because Trump provided both in lavish measure.
And even if it’s a ghastly spectacle and presented that way, it still lets him control the narrative. As the writer Steve Almond observed in a recently published essay, “He appears powerful to his followers, which is central to his strongman mystique.”
[R]eaders’ news appetite isn’t infinite, so they’re starved of information about the fraudulence of his supposed populism and the toll of his incompetence. And he wins. He doesn’t hate the media, not at all. He uses us.
Thomas Patterson of Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy has been analyzing that coverage since Trump declared his candidacy for the presidency in 2015. Patterson found that for much of that year, the number of stories about Trump in the country’s most influential newspapers and on its principal newscasts significantly exceeded what his support in polls at the time justified.
And those stories were predominantly positive. . . . In stark contrast, stories about Hillary Clinton in 2015 were mostly negative.
Through the first half of 2016, as Trump racked up victories in the Republican primaries, he commanded much more coverage than any other candidate from either party, and it was evenly balanced between positive and negative appraisals — unlike the coverage of Clinton, which remained mostly negative.
Only during their general-election face-off in the latter half of 2016 did Trump and Clinton confront equivalent tides of naysaying. “On topics relating to the candidates’ fitness for office, Clinton and Trump’s coverage was virtually identical in terms of its negative tone,” Patterson wrote.
Regarding their fitness for office, they were treated identically? In retrospect, that’s madness. It should have been in real time, too.
[W]e fell prey to a habit that can’t be repeated when we compare the new crop of Democratic challengers to Trump and to one another. We interpreted fairness as a similarly apportioned mix of complimentary and derogatory stories about each contender, no matter how different one contender’s qualifications, accomplishments and liabilities were from another’s. If we were going to pile on Trump, we had to pile on Clinton — or, rather, keep piling on her.
“It was wall-to-wall emails,” said Jill Abramson, . . . . “When you compare that to the wrongdoing that has been exposed so far by Robert Mueller,” Abramson told me, “it seems like a small thing.” The considerable muck in Clinton’s background never did, and never could, match the mountain of muck in Trump’s.
Trump also benefited from the media’s excessive faith in polls and its insufficient grasp of what was happening among Americans between the coasts. “The basic flaw of the press coverage, and I count myself in it, was the total assumption that Hillary would win,” she said. “The firepower of the investigative spotlight turned on Trump was a little bit less, because no one thought he would be the president, and that was a grave mistake.”
Regardless, he won’t get any pass along those lines in 2020. There are formal investigations galore into his behavior. The media needs only to track them — and is doing so, raptly.
We need to do something else, too, which is to recognize that Trump now has an actual record in office and to discuss that with as much energy as we do his damned Twitter feed.
We’ll have evidence aplenty to demonstrate that he’s ineffective and incompetent, an approach more likely to have traction than telling voters that he’s outrageous. They already know that.  We just have to wean ourselves from his Twitter expectorations, which are such easy, entertaining fuel for talking — or, rather, exploding — heads.
“It got to the point where it was one outrage after another, and we just moved on each time,” he said. Instead, we should hold on to the most outrageous, unconscionable moments. We should pause there awhile. We can’t privilege the incremental over what should be the enduring. It lets Trump off the hook.
So does anything, really, that tugs us from issues of policy and governance into the realms of theater and sport. That puts a greater premium than ever on avoiding what Joel Benenson called “the horse-race obsession” with who’s ahead, who’s behind, who seems to be breaking into a gallop, who’s showing signs of a limp.
[I]t’s on us to try to interest them [readers and/or viewers] in more and to leaven that concentration of attention with full, vivid introductions to Trump’s alternatives. Dozens of Democrats are poised to volunteer for that role, and when we in the media observe — as I myself have done — that they must possess the requisite vividness to steal some of his spotlight, we’re talking as much about our own prejudices and shortcomings as anything else. We can direct that spotlight where we want. It needn’t always fall on the politician juggling swords or doing back flips.
It’s on us to quit staging “likability” sweepstakes . . . Every four years we say we’ll devote more energy and space to policy and every four years we don’t. But in an environment this polarized and shrill, and at a crossroads this consequential, following through on that vow is more important than ever.
It’s on us not to surrender to tired taxonomies that worsen the country’s divisions and echo Trump’s divisiveness. Black voters, white voters, urban voters and rural voters aren’t driven solely by those designations, and the soul of the country doesn’t belong exclusively to former factory workers in the Rust Belt.
It’s critically important that we find ways to get at what it is people imagine government should be doing and that we really look at what kind of leadership we need.”  Nicknames have nothing to do with it. So let’s not have much to do with them.