Saturday, May 11, 2019

Masking Hate Behind "Religious Freedom" Rhetoric

Donald Trump and the equally sinister Mike Pence have enthusiastically climbed on-board the Christofascists rallying cry of "religious freedom" as a means to gain special privileges for themselves and to mask their real motivation: hatred of others. The Trump/Pence regime has been relentless in its efforts to harm LGBT Americans, most recently filing briefs  with the U.S. Supreme Court arguing that it is lawful to fire employees due to the sexual orientation, a move that sent many Christofascists into near orgasmic delight.  Sadly, many straights do not understand that gays and transgender citizens are not the only targets of the Christofascists.  Women and religious minorities likewise need to be concerned by the insidious use of claims of religious freedom to disguise hate and bigotry.   It is also necessary to note that claims of religious freedom can create public health threats as underscored by the measles outbreak in New York City centered on an ultra-orthodox Jewish community.   Religious beliefs should never be allowed to outweigh public safety issues or the civil rights of others.   Freedom of worship means exactly that: worshiping at religious services of one's choice and not having your tax dollars used to support an official state sponsored church.  A column in the New York Times and USA Today look at the effort to use the ploy of religious freedom in a way never contemplated by the Founding Fathers to harm other citizens and deprive them of equal civil rights.  First these excerpts from the Times piece: 
In 1976 I left a small Catholic grammar school, where we prayed aloud four times a day, to attend a large public high school where we didn’t pray aloud at all. The United States Supreme Court had banned school-sponsored prayer in 1962, but nobody was keeping me from praying. . . . I prayed all day long, and no one in my public school had any idea I was praying at all.
It has been decades since I prayed my way through high school, but all across the red states, conservative Christians are still challenging that 1962 decision, constantly pushing the limits of what “student-led” prayer in public school, which the ruling permits, really means. Earlier this year, a 17-year-old student in Louisiana sued her school district for beginning the day with a recitation of the Lord’s Prayer. Technically a student leads the prayer. In reality the student reads from a printout that school officials set beside the microphone.
Conservative Christians are forever trying to inject their personal religious beliefs into the public sphere. Here in Tennessee, the owner of a small-town bakery just outside Nashville recently reneged on an agreement to bake a wedding cake because the wedding in question involved two brides and no grooms.
It would be almost funny if it weren’t so unfair. It’s illegal for a store owner to discriminate against customers because they happen to belong to a group against which the shopkeeper harbors a personal prejudice. It’s illegal for a racist to open a restaurant that serves only white people. Prejudice cloaked in the robes of religious faith should follow the same precedent.
Only it doesn’t. In this country, citing religious or spiritual convictions is often a surefire way to get out of doing something you’re required by law to do. If your religion claims that homosexuality is sinful, this logic goes, then why should you be required to bake a wedding cake for a lesbian couple? If practicing birth control runs counter to your church’s teaching, then why should the health insurance you offer your employees be required to cover a vasectomy? And why, if your religion teaches you to forego vaccines that prevent viral illnesses, should you be required to vaccinate your children?
At this very moment, nature is providing the perfect response in the form of a measles outbreak the likes of which we have not seen in this country for a quarter-century. Of the 764 confirmed cases so far this year, the vast majority are clustered in New York City, primarily in ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities where some view vaccines as a violation of kosher restrictions and a danger to children’s health.
Here’s what also exacerbates those numbers: failure of political will. Mayor Bill de Blasio has declared a public health emergency and closed some New York City public schools in response to the outbreak, but so far state lawmakers have refused to revoke the religious exemption for vaccination. All 50 states require children to be vaccinated before enrolling in public school, but the vast majority of them allow for similar religious or philosophical exemptions.
We live in an age of easy travel and widespread misinformation, and it’s long past time for lawmakers in this country to propose a much more reasonable definition of religious freedom. The Constitution protects my right to believe whatever I want to believe, including my right to shun science and modern medicine. It does not give me the right to expose innocent people to unnecessary suffering. . . . If you decide not to vaccinate your children, then they should not be allowed to take public transportation or go to public school.
Likewise, if you’re a baker whose religious convictions prevent you from baking a wedding cake for a gay couple, then you need to find a line of work that doesn’t involve selling wedding cakes from a public storefront. You can take your chances with natural family planning if that’s what your religious faith calls you to do, but you’ll still be required to offer your employees health insurance that covers birth control.
Religious faith is a private matter between a believer and God. But how a believer lives in community with other people is something different altogether. It’s time to stop giving believers a pass just because their beliefs happen to run counter to the laws of the nation they live in. Human lives may depend on it.

The op-ed in USA Today continues this theme and looks in particular at the Trump/Pence war against LGBT citizens motivated by Trump's desire to please Christofascists and Pence's own extreme and dangerous religious beliefs.  Here are excerpts:
Last week President Donald Trump took another hostile action against LGBTQ people. But you wouldn’t know that from many of the headlines. 
“Trump Administration Strengthens ‘Conscience Rule’ for Health Care Workers,” read the headline in the New York Times about a bill that would allow doctors, nurses, physicians, pharmacists, nurses, teachers and others to discriminate based on their religious beliefs. National Public Radio’s web site went with “New Trump Rule Protects Health Care Workers Who Refuse Care For Religious Reasons.”
It’s true that someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity are only two among several reasons such workers, under an expanded Department of Health and Human Services rule, may deny care to people based on religious grounds. And most reports did discuss the threat to LGBTQ people, in addition to the threat to other groups, such as women seeking reproductive health care.
But the coded language used by the Trump administration, couched in protecting religious beliefs rather than permitting discrimination against LGBTQ people . . . . Using this coded language to attack LGBTQ rights has benefited this administration as it continues to galvanize conservative evangelicals — who know exactly who is being targeted — while not alienating people who might see these efforts as an attack on civil rights.
But make no mistake: LGBTQ people are among the primary targets if not the main target of such efforts. It's part of religious conservatives' strategy to chip away at marriage equality and LGBTQ rights much as they have done on the issue of abortion rights for many years.
The effort to recast discrimination against LGBTQ people, and roll back rights that were hard won, has indeed been successful. The debate has shifted to issues such as “religious liberty” and “conscience.”
That’s why it’s important that the agenda of anti-LGBTQ forces, including the coded language they use, be fully exposed. Some of the Trump administration’s hostile actions, such as the president’s Twitter announcement in 2017 that’d be banning transgender people from the military, are so overt they can’t be papered over. But others are disguised as protecting religious freedom.
When Vice President Mike Pence spoke at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference in March, he claimed that “freedom of religion is under attack in our country.” He then portrayed himself and his family as among the victims.
In Virginia and more than half the states, absent a federal law such as the Equality Act recently re-introduced in Congress, there are no protections for LGBT people against such discrimination in employment and education. And yet, in polls Americans express broad support for these protections. Most Americans don’t see this as an issue of “religious liberty” — and many of them are people of faith themselves —  but rather as one of flat out discrimination.
It’s for that reason that Trump, Pence and others in the GOP speak in inexplicit ways to play to the evangelical base, while keeping the anti-LGBTQ agenda below the radar for anyone who would be turned off by blatant bigotry. But when you're the target, you get it. Many of us in the LGBTQ community understand their code and why their intent must be made clear.
Trump's brutal record of hostility to LGBTQ people, and his bowing to those determined to roll back LGBTQ rights, must be fully laid bare to voters before the 2020 election. As long as the administration is allowed to get away with vague statements and code language, it won't be.
Christofascists - it is far past time to stop using the misnomer "conservative Christians" - and in the case of the measles epidemic, ultra-orthodox Jews are in the final analysis intensely self-centered people who care nothing for the rights or very lives of others.  It is all about them and to Hell with everyone else.  The need to be recognized and treated as such.

Saturday Morning Male Beauty

Friday, May 10, 2019

More Friday Male Beauty

Trump Is Terrible for Rural America

For at least the last quarter century, Republicans have shown genius in how they have been able to convince segments of the American public to vote for GOP candidates and in the process vote against their own economic interests. The main tools have been racial bigotry/fears, religion, and homophobia, which ties in with the latter.   More recently, the GOP has used cultural resentment on the part of rural residents by attacking the "liberal elites." This last approach has transformed the GOP from a party that embraced science, knowledge and education into a party that embraces ignorance and almost celebrates stupidity.   Donald Trump has shrewdly taken the old GOP formula to new heights with his open racism, fanning the myth of Christian persecution in America, and stoking the myth of American exceptionalism.  Other than its powerful military, compared to European nations, America is exceptional only in its failure to count its citizens as assets and to put in place policies that save lives.  There is a reason American life expectancy is falling while it continue to rise in  other developed nations.  Hardest hit by these wrongheaded Trump/GOP policies are rural areas which have become key to the Trump/GOP base.  A column in the New York Times looks at the damage being done to Trump voters and raises the issue of when will they open their eyes to the fact that they have been played for fools and are their own worse enemies.  Here are column excerpts:

Economists, reports Politico, are fleeing the Agriculture Department’s Economic Research Service. Six of them resigned on a single day last month. The reason? They are feeling persecuted for publishing reports that shed an unflattering light on Trump policies.
But these reports are just reflecting reality (which has a well-known anti-Trump bias). Rural America is a key part of Donald Trump’s base. In fact, rural areas are the only parts of the country in which Trump has a net positive approval rating. But they’re also the biggest losers under his policies.
What, after all, is Trumpism? In 2016 Trump pretended to be a different kind of Republican, but in practice almost all of his economic agenda has been G.O.P. standard: big tax cuts for corporations and the rich while hacking away at the social safety net. The one big break from orthodoxy has been his protectionism, his eagerness to start trade wars.
And all of these policies disproportionately hurt farm country.
The Trump tax cut largely passes farmers by, because they aren’t corporations and few of them are rich. . . . to the extent that farmers saw tax reductions, most of the benefits went to the richest 10 percent, while poor farmers actually saw a slight tax increase. At the same time, the assault on the safety net is especially harmful to rural America, which relies heavily on safety-net programs. Of the 100 counties with the highest percentage of their population receiving food stamps, 85 are rural, and most of the rest are in small metropolitan areas. The expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, which Trump keeps trying to kill, had its biggest positive impact on rural areas.
And these programs are crucial to rural Americans even if they don’t personally receive government aid. Safety-net programs bring purchasing power, which helps create rural jobs. Medicaid is also a key factor keeping rural hospitals alive; without it, access to health care would be severely curtailed for rural Americans in general.
The U.S. farm sector is hugely dependent on access to world markets, much more so than the economy as a whole.  American soybean growers export half of what they produce; wheat farmers export 46 percent of their crop. . . . Trump’s recent rage-tweeting over trade, which raised the prospect of an expanded trade war, sent grain markets to a 42-year low. If the world descends into trade war, U.S. imports and exports will both shrink — and farmers, among our most important exporters, will be the biggest losers.
Why, then, do rural areas support Trump? A lot of it has to do with cultural factors. In particular, rural voters are far more hostile to immigrants than urban voters — especially in communities where there are few immigrants to be found. Lack of familiarity apparently breeds contempt.
Rural voters also feel disrespected by coastal elites, and Trump has managed to channel their anger. No doubt many rural voters, if they happened to read this column, would react with rage, not at Trump, but at me: “So you think we’re stupid!”
But support for Trump might nonetheless start to crack if rural voters realized how much they are being hurt by his policies. What’s a Trumpist to do?
One answer is to repeat zombie lies. A few weeks ago Trump told a cheering rally that his cuts in the estate tax have helped farmers. This claim is, however, totally false; PolitiFact rated it “pants on fire.” . . . . Tales of family farms broken up to pay estate tax are pure fiction.
Another answer is to try to suppress the truth. Hence the persecution of Agriculture Department economists who were just trying to do their jobs.
The thing is, the assault on truth will have consequences that go beyond politics. Agriculture’s Economic Research Service isn’t supposed to be a cheering section for whoever is in power. . . . Now, however, the service’s ability to do its job is being rapidly degraded, because the Trump administration doesn’t believe in fact-based policy. Basically, it doesn’t believe in facts, period. Everything is political.
And who will pay the price for this degradation? Rural Americans. Trump’s biggest supporters are his biggest victims.
To the extent "coastal elites" look down on Trump supporters, it is because they ARE stupid, at least in the sense that they cannot see that they are being played for fools.  Add to that their inability to see that their own racism and religious extremism make their home regions look unattractive to the new, progressive businesses they so desperately need. 

Friday Morning Male Beauty

Thursday, May 09, 2019

Pete Buttigieg Continues to Prompt Evangelicals to Show Their True Hate-Filled Nature

The presidential candidacy of Pete Buttigieg - and the fact that he is running in third place currently - has evangelical Christians, or at least the "professional Christians" who make a living disseminating hatred and falsehoods under the guise of religious belief, to go into absolute apoplexy.  Constant shrieks and flying spittle are the norm, especially for a group that has labeled itself as the Gone2Far Movement which has a piece in Christian News Wire - a typically far right Christian "news" outlet.  

As blogger friend Joe Jervis noted - Joe and I have been tracking far right anti-gay "Christian" extremists for over two decades - Gone2Far is a relatively new coalition of long time anti-LGBT extremists Scott Lively, Peter LaBarbera, Brian Camenker, and alleged ex-gay Stephen Black, who Joe, I, and other LGBT activists have tracked for many years as they have peddled anti-gay lies and bogus science.  New to the group is what Jie describes as "a gaggle of hater nobodies you’ve never heard of"  who I suspect are motivated by a desire to get onboard the anti-gay financial gravy train among evangelical circles.   With luck, these hate merchants will finally be seen by the larger public for what they are - extremists who are leeches who prey on the ignorant and gullible while they line their pockets with money made from speaking circuits and books peddled to the sheeple.

On a related note, some say that I am far too hard on evangelicals and that some are decent people.  My problem with such people is that they are cut out of the same cloth as the "good Germans" who did nothing to stop the rise of Hitler or the Holocaust. Good, decent people cannot remain silent in the face of hate, deliberate lies and evil.  Yet the silence of the majority of evangelicals in confronting groups like Gone2Far is deafening.  By their silence, rightly or wrongly, they have tacitly allowed such hate merchants to define them.  If they have a problem with how I describe them, all they need do is speak up and condemn folks like those involved in Gone2Far.  

Meanwhile, here's a sampling of the lunacy and animus being spouted by Gone2Far as set forth in the Christian News Wire piece (note that per these lunatics Buttigieg's candidacy is part of a larger gay conspiracy):  
Mayor Pete Buttigieg is publicly challenging the definition of what a Christian is in the public square.
The culmination of the culture wars has now turned to redefining Christianity. The LGBTQ community has used media, entertainment, and the law to codify their view of sexuality. They have convinced Americans that the homosexual lifestyle is normal and an acceptable practice in the public square. They have, in effect, successfully introduced a neo-morality into the culture. In fact, the LGBTQ community is claiming victory over the traditional values of evangelicals.
Mayor Pete represents the "kill shot" launch by the gay community to now re-define Christianity. This neo-Christianity is made out of their feelings into their image. Pete Buttigieg is the face of their new theology. Buttigieg claims that "God made me this way." An incredible claim in light of the fact the Bible teaches homosexuality is a sin. However, this claim is far more dangerous and sinister than it appears. This claim creates a contradiction and brings into question the coherency of truth claims in the Holy Word of God.
Also, the claim makes the God of scripture a hypocrite. Why would He make people homosexuals and then condemn them as sinners? Buttigieg is challenging underlying assumptions in the infallible word of God. I submit he is redefining Christianity. This attack has been brewing for a long time. The LGBTQ has been seeking ways to diminish the influence of the Bible's unswerving teaching against the gay lifestyle. 
Note the use of the term "gay lifestyle" is derogatory in itself and pushes the lie that sexual orientation is a choice and can be changed.  Never mind what medical and mental health experts say and never mind that the Old Testament to which these folks point to for their authority - the New Testament is silent on homosexuality - was authored by ignorant Bronze Age herders.  The real problem Buttigieg poses for these extremists is two-fold: (i) he shows that gays are normal, responsible people like so many others in society and not the drug addicts and alcoholics the Christofascists have depicted us as for decades, and (ii) he is putting a spotlight on the archaic and untrue myths the Christofascists have based their lives and exclusionary and divisive dogma on. They simply cannot tolerate anything or anyone that makes it clear to others that they have lived their lives based on lies.  They will lash out and try to destroy anyone who exposes their false beliefs.  Mayor Pete had best fasten his seat belt. Their hysteria and hate-filled attacks will likely only increase.

More Thursday Male Beauty

2 Dead Young Heroes: It’s Time to Stand Up to Guns

The family of Riley Howell who died stopping a gunman.
Growing up I attended a small rural school system where a number of students, especially the boys, hunted and had guns in their homes.  Most such guns were hunting rifles and no one to my knowledge possessed military style assault rifles. Yet, despite this availability of guns at home, none of us students had to live in fear that our lives might be in danger while in our classes from past or present students - or others - out to commit murder and mayhem. Indeed, out only worry about guns were hunters who constantly disrespected property rights of others and trespassed , utterly ignoring "posted" and "no trespass" signs.  Over the intervening years, the number of guns in America has mushroomed and there are now more guns than people and, as a column in the New York Times notes, it is more difficult to adopted a pet from a shelter than it is to buy a gun.  Something is seriously wrong in this nation which has the highest rate of gun carnage of any developed country.  The 2nd Amendment, which the Founding Fathers included in the Bill of Rights for a limited purpose - i.e., maintaining a regulated Militia  - has been utterly perverted by the gun industry and its tools within the NRA.  The referenced column looks at the sickness in America and the need for gun control now.  Thoughts and prayers - a GOP favorite sound bite - do nothing.  Here are column excerpts:
Politicians fearful of the National Rifle Association have allowed the gun lobby to run amok so that America now has more guns than people, but there is still true heroism out there in the face of gun violence: students who rush shooters at the risk of their own lives.
Let’s celebrate, and mourn, a student named Kendrick Castillo, 18, just days away from graduating in Highlands Ranch, Colo., who on Tuesday helped save his classmates in English literature class from a gunman.
At least three boys in the class — one of them Brendan Bialy, who hopes to become a Marine — tackled and disarmed the gunman. “They were very heroic,” Nui said. Bravo as well to the police officers who arrived within two minutes of the shooting and seized the two attackers. The courage of those students in Colorado echoes last week’s bravery of Riley Howell, a student at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Riley, 21, charged a gunman there and continued even as he was shot twice. As he tackled the gunman he was shot a third time, in the head, and killed, but he ended the shooting.
Riley was deservedly given a hero’s funeral, and presumably the same will happen with Kendrick. But their parents didn’t want martyrs; they wanted children and grandchildren. And it is appalling that we as a society have abandoned American kids so that they must die to save their classmates.
When New Zealand experienced a mass shooting in March, it took the government of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern just 26 days to tighten gun laws and ban assault rifles. In contrast, America has had 53 years of inaction since the University of Texas tower shooting in 1966 claimed 17 lives. Sandy Hook … Las Vegas … Parkland — so many dead; so little done.
Since 1970, 1.45 million Americans have died from guns — suicides, murders and accidents. That’s more than the 1.4 million Americans estimated to have died in all the wars in American history going back to the American Revolution.
This should also make us all cringe: In a typical year, more American children ages 4 and younger die from firearms (110 in 2016) than police officers do in the line of duty (65 in 2016).
So let’s send thoughts and prayers to the families of victims in Colorado and North Carolina, but let’s also push for a sensible gun policy that would make such heroics less necessary.
Granted, this is complicated. . . . . Still, there are obvious steps worth taking. A starting point would be to require universal background checks before all firearms sales. Some 22 percent of guns are still acquired in the U.S. without a background check; a person wanting to adopt a rescue dog often undergoes a more thorough check than a person buying an assault rifle.
Safe storage of guns — in gun safes or with trigger locks — prevents children and others from accessing firearms. Voluntary gun buybacks would reduce the pool of firearms out there. We should also invest in “smart gun” technologies that require a code or fingerprint to fire. We need more “red-flag laws” that make it more difficult for people to obtain guns when they present a threat to themselves or others.
And tell me: Why do we bar people on the terrorism watch list from boarding planes while still allowing them to purchase guns?
Every day in 2017, the last year for which we have figures, an average of 107 people died in America from guns. We’re not able to avert every shooting, but we can save some lives. We need not have the courage of the students who charged gunmen; we just need to demand action from our members of Congress and state legislators.
That’s the best way to honor heroes like Kendrick Castillo and Riley Howell, by making such heroics less necessary in classrooms around America.
Many parents likely think gun violence could never happen to their children - or grandchildren - yet the truth of the matter is that it can and the possibility goes up every year that meaningful gun control fails to be enacted.  Look at the photo above and realize someday this could be you or your family members.  Vote against any politician who will not stand up to the NRA and gun lobby and support comprehensive gun control laws.

Thursday Morning Male Beauty

Wednesday, May 08, 2019

Ex-Miami Beach Pool Attendant Received $1.8 Million Loan From Falwells

Falwell and former pool attendant to whom he loaned $1.8 million.
Try as he might to brush off allegations that former Trump fixer Michael Cohen facilitated fixing a "problem" with racy, intimate photos involving anti-gay bigot and Trump BFF Jerry Falwell, Jr., many in the media are continuing a feeding frenzy over the questions swirling around the alleged photos and an individual some reports are referring to as a "pool boy" who may have been the party who sought to put a financial squeeze on Falwell.  As the Miami New Times is reporting, one Giancarlo Granda, a former Fontainebleau Hotel pool attendant, bizarrely received $1.8 million in loans Jerry Falwell Jr.  It goes without saying that the loans look curious at best.  Meanwhile, Granda is in a pique over news reports referring to him as a pool boy.   Ironically, the story is something that one would expect to see in Trump's former protectors at the National Inquirer. I am sorry if some may believe I am enjoying Falwell's media misfortunes, but time and time again over the life of this blog anti-gay politicians, advocates of ex-gay conversion therapy, and holier than though religious "leaders" have proved to be total hypocrites and have been exposed to have engaged in the very behaviors they condemn while fleecing their followers.  Remember anti-gay zealot Ted Haggard or former GOP Virginia 2nd District Congressman Ed Schrock, just two of numerous examples?  Here are article excerpts (The Advocate also has coverage here):
Giancarlo Granda, the former Fontainebleau pool attendant whose business bizarrely received $1.8 million in loans from famous evangelist Jerry Falwell Jr., wants the world to stop calling him a "pool boy." He finds the term demeaning.
And, perhaps more notable, he officially denies knowing anything about alleged "racy" photos referenced in a Reuters story published yesterday. Reuters investigative reporter Aram Roston obtained a clandestine recording made by comedian Tom Arnold in which Donald Trump's former fixer Michael Cohen said he helped Falwell Jr. hide intimate photos that a lawyer "in Florida" had obtained. In the recording, Cohen — a man who has ostensibly seen his fair share of shenanigans — said even he found one of the photos to be "terrible."
Roston was also the reporter who broke the news that Falwell Jr. had mysteriously loaned Granda's business a ton of money and that Cohen was aware of a lawsuit involving Falwell and Granda. Reporters have, ahem, speculated that Granda was the Floridian who had obtained said photos and that Cohen might have leveraged the scandal to get Falwell Jr. to endorse the infamously lecherous and not-at-all Jesus-like Trump in 2016.
But today, Granda's lawyer, Aaron Resnick, denied Granda had anything to do with this. Everything about the Falwell Jr. story is extremely weird. To summarize: In 2012, Granda was working as a pool attendant at the luxurious Fontainebleau in Miami Beach. While Granda was employed there, Falwell Jr. and his wife Becki stayed at the resort and, according to court records, "befriended" Granda. From there, Granda grew very close to the Falwell family: According to court filings first reported by Roston, Granda, along with Falwell's son Trey, bought a hostel on Alton Road in Miami Beach and has been managing it ever since. (A Politico reporter even stayed there and implied the place was gay-friendly, which would be pretty darn hypocritical for the infamously homophobic Falwell family.) The Falwells also reportedly flew Granda around in a private jet and even took him to meet Trump. Falwell Jr., meanwhile, has denied the existence of any lurid photos. He told Fox Radio host Todd Starnes there are "no compromising or embarrassing photos" of himself.
"While we have a long-standing friendship with Michael Cohen, we never engaged or paid Cohen to represent us in any legal or other professional capacity, and Cohen did not ever resolve any legal matter on our behalf," Falwell added. "This report is not accurate."
Since the story broke, the internet has been awash in rumors that Granda was somehow involved in the affair.
"Media outlets have been referring to Mr. Granda as a 'pool boy,'" Resnick said. "The term 'pool boy' is being used to demean Mr. Granda, sully his name, and infer negative connotations.

I can't help but wonder if I could claim I had "prayed away the gay" and befriend the Falwells and get my own $1.8 million loan.   On second thought, probably not: ex-gays are a right wing myth and I'm not as young and nice looking as Granda.

More Wednesday Male Beauty

Dedicated to Jerry Falwell, Jr. - anti-gay bigot and seeming hypocrite.

Michael Cohen Says He Helped Jerry Falwell, Jr. Handle "Racy Photos" "Problem"

In my view, one of the major blights on Virginia is Liberty University, the right wing "Christian" university located in Lynchburg, Virginia (Pat Robertson's Regent University in Virginia Beach is another one) home base to the late Jerry Falwell and now is even more despicable son bearing his name.  One of the hallmarks of numerous "Christian" "leaders" is that they do not always practice what they preach, especially when it comes to sexual matters.  Now, former Trump fixer Michael Cohen says he aided Falwell, Jr., with a "racy photos" problem.  Even more delicious, he says that he still has one of the problem photos.  With Falwell's rabid support of Donald Trump, the man has already indicated he cares nothing about true Christian values and prefers political power - and wealth - over living the gospel message. Cohen's claim suggests that Falwell's hypocrisy extends to other aspects of his conduct as well.  Reuters reports on Cohen's claims.  Here are highlights: 
Months before evangelical leader Jerry Falwell Jr.’s game-changing presidential endorsement of Donald Trump in 2016, Falwell asked Trump fixer Michael Cohen for a personal favor, Cohen said in a recorded conversation reviewed by Reuters. 
Falwell, president of Liberty University, one of the world’s largest Christian universities, said someone had come into possession of what Cohen described as racy “personal” photographs — the sort that would typically be kept “between husband and wife,” Cohen said in the taped conversation.
According to a source familiar with Cohen’s thinking, the person who possessed the photos destroyed them after Cohen intervened on the Falwells’ behalf.  The Falwells, through a lawyer, declined to comment for this article.
Cohen, . . .  recounted his involvement in the matter in a recording made surreptitiously by comedian Tom Arnold on March 25. Portions of the recording — in which Cohen appeared to disavow parts of his guilty plea — were first reported April 24 by The Wall Street Journal.
The Falwells enlisted Cohen’s help in 2015, according to the source familiar with Cohen’s thinking, the year Trump announced his presidential candidacy. At the time, Cohen was Trump’s confidant and personal lawyer, and he worked for the Trump Organization.
The Falwells wanted to keep “a bunch of photographs, personal photographs” from becoming public, Cohen told Arnold. “I actually have one of the photos,” he said, without going into specifics. “It’s terrible.”
Cohen would later prove successful in another matter involving Falwell, two people familiar with the matter told Reuters. Cohen helped persuade Falwell to issue his endorsement of Trump’s presidential candidacy at a critical moment, they said: just before the Iowa caucuses. Falwell subsequently barnstormed with Trump and vouched for the candidate’s Christian virtues.
Cohen’s connection to the Falwells sheds light on the formidable alliance between Trump and a man who, through his university, is one of the most influential evangelical figures in America. Falwell’s backing helped galvanize evangelicals and persuaded many Christians concerned about Trump’s past behavior to embrace him as a repentant sinner.
Falwell’s support for Trump has not wavered throughout the New York celebrity-politician’s own tribulations, including the Access Hollywood recording of Trump talking about grabbing women’s genitals and payoffs made by Cohen to hide Trump’s extramarital affairs.
The Falwells told Cohen that someone had obtained photographs that were embarrassing to them, and was demanding money, the source said. Reuters was unable to determine who made the demand. The source said Cohen flew to Florida and soon met with an attorney for the person with the photographs. Cohen spoke with the attorney, telling the lawyer that his client was committing a crime, and that law enforcement authorities would be called if the demands didn’t stop, the source said.
The matter was soon resolved, the source said, and the lawyer told Cohen that all of the photographs were destroyed.
Soon after, according to this account, Falwell made his historic announcement. “I am proud to offer my endorsement of Donald J. Trump for President of the United States,” Falwell was quoted saying in a statement issued by the Trump campaign. “He is a successful executive and entrepreneur, a wonderful father and a man who I believe can lead our country to greatness again.”
Numerous other news sites are beginning to cover the story.  One can only hope the photo in Cohen's possession sees the light of day and that Falwell's perhaps less than godly Christian conduct is thrown in the face of his lemming -like followers.

Wednesday Morning Male Beauty

Tuesday, May 07, 2019

Trump’s Tax Returns: 1985-1994, Show Massive $1.17 Billion Loss

Trump spent $365 million in 1989 to buy a shuttle operation from Eastern Airlines. It never turned a profit.
Sorry, but I can only find this news from a lengthy article the New York Times to be very sweet indeed.  Yes, the period involved is from years ago, but the huge losses reflected may suggest why Trump doesn't want House Democrats to see his tax returns for the last six years since they might undercut the image he has sold to his cult followers - or provide leads to illicit income.  The story strongly suggests that if there is any "fake news" it is Trump's "success" story that he has been disseminating for years. One can only imagine the Twitter storm that will ensue from the malignant narcissist -in-chief over the Times putting out some of the truth about him - including the many years he paid no taxes.  My view: Trump is a liar, fraud and con-artist who has lived by duping and screwing others financially.  Now he is screwing the entire nation and his cult followers are too stupid and/or bigoted to realize they have been conned. Here are some article highlights:

By the time his master-of-the-universe memoir “Trump: The Art of the Deal” hit bookstores in 1987, Donald J. Trump was already in deep financial distress, losing tens of millions of dollars on troubled business deals, according to previously unrevealed figures from his federal income tax returns.
Mr. Trump was propelled to the presidency, in part, by a self-spun narrative of business success and of setbacks triumphantly overcome. He has attributed his first run of reversals and bankruptcies to the recession that took hold in 1990. But 10 years of tax information obtained by The New York Times paints a different, and far bleaker, picture of his deal-making abilities and financial condition.
Though the information does not cover the tax years at the center of an escalating battle between the Trump administration and Congress, it traces the most tumultuous chapter in a long business career — an era of fevered acquisition and spectacular collapse. 
The numbers show that in 1985, Mr. Trump reported losses of $46.1 million from his core businesses — largely casinos, hotels and retail space in apartment buildings. They continued to lose money every year, totaling $1.17 billion in losses for the decade.
In fact, year after year, Mr. Trump appears to have lost more money than nearly any other individual American taxpayer, The Times found when it compared his results with detailed information the I.R.S. compiles on an annual sampling of high-income earners.
Trump lost so much money that he was able to avoid paying income taxes for eight of the 10 years. It is not known whether the I.R.S. later required changes after audits.
Since the 2016 presidential campaign, journalists at The Times and elsewhere have been trying to piece together Mr. Trump’s complex and concealed finances. While The Times did not obtain the president’s actual tax returns, it received the information contained in the returns from someone who had legal access to it. The Times was then able to find matching results in the I.R.S. information on top earners — a publicly available database that each year comprises a one-third sampling of those taxpayers, with identifying details removed. It also confirmed significant findings using other public documents, along with confidential Trump family tax and financial records from the newspaper’s 2018 investigation into the origin of the president’s wealth.
Mark J. Mazur, a former director of research, analysis and statistics at the I.R.S., said that, far from being considered unreliable, data used to create such transcripts had undergone quality control for decades and had been used to analyze economic trends and set national policy. In addition, I.R.S. auditors often refer to the transcripts as “handy” summaries of tax returns, said Mr. Mazur, now director of the nonpartisan Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center in Washington.
In fact, the source of The Times’s newly obtained information was able to provide several years of unpublished tax figures from the president’s father, the builder Fred C. Trump. They matched up precisely with Fred Trump’s actual returns, which had been obtained by The Times in the earlier investigation.
Mr. Trump built a business licensing his name, became a television celebrity and ran for the White House by branding himself a self-made billionaire. . . . Yet over the years, the actual extent of his wealth has been the subject of much doubt and debate. He broke with four decades of precedent in refusing to release any of his tax returns as a presidential candidate, and until now only a few pages of his returns have become public. Last year’s Times investigation found that he had received at least $413 million in 2018 dollars from his father. The new tax information does not answer questions raised by House Democrats in their pursuit of the last six years of Mr. Trump’s tax returns — about his recent business dealings and possible foreign sources of financing and influence. Nor does it offer a fundamentally new narrative of his picaresque career.
But in the granular detail of tax results, it gives a precise accounting of [Trump's] the president’s financial failures and of the constantly shifting focus that would characterize his decades in business. In contrast to his father’s stable and profitable empire of rental apartments in Brooklyn and Queens, Mr. Trump’s primary sources of income changed year after year, from big stock earnings, to a single year of more than $67.1 million in salary, to a mysterious $52.9 million windfall in interest income. But always, those gains were overwhelmed by losses on his casinos and other projects.
The new information also suggests that Mr. Trump’s 1990 collapse might have struck several years earlier if not for his brief side career posing as a corporate raider.
In New York, the attorney general’s office is investigating the financing of several major Trump Organization projects; Deutsche Bank has already begun turning over documents. The state attorney general is also examining issues raised last year by The Times’s investigation, which revealed that much of the money Mr. Trump had received from his father came from his participation in dubious tax schemes, including instances of outright fraud.
The 10-year total: $1.17 billion in losses.
Mr. Trump was able to lose all that money without facing the usual consequences — such as a steep drop in his standard of living — in part because most of it belonged to others, to the banks and bond investors who had supplied the cash to fuel his acquisitions. And as The Times’s earlier investigation showed, Mr. Trump secretly leaned on his father’s wealth to continue living like a winner and to stage a comeback.

More Tuesday Male Beauty

Many in GOP would like Nothing More than Sanders as Democrat Nominee

Sometimes seeing who those on the opposing team see as must vulnerable ought to make one think twice about their own choice.  Rational people might pause and question their support when the opposing political party see your choice as the easiest one to defeat.  Most likely, such thoughts will not register with Bernie Sanders whose peevishness put Trump - a man diametrically opposed to what they claimed to espouse - in the White House in 2016.  Many Democrats fear a reprise of 2016.  As a piece in Politico reports, many Republicans are salivating at the prospect of Sanders winning the 2020 Democrat nomination.   I share their views of Sanders' potential liabilities, especially the risk of losing moderate and independent voters.  Note how Republicans also view a Sanders nomination as a boost to their effort to retain control of the U.S. Senate.  Here are article highlights:

Republicans like their chances of keeping the Senate in 2020. But there’s one thing they think would all but seal the deal: Bernie Sanders as the Democratic presidential nominee.
Some GOP incumbents are practically cheering him on, confident there’s no way a self-described democratic socialist could win a general election against President Donald Trump and that he’d drag other Democrats on the ballot with him.
“It would be good for us to have a nominee like that,” said Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), who is up for reelection next year and sounded downright giddy about the prospect of Sanders representing Democrats at the top of the ticket.
Trump and the Senate GOP have explicitly designed their 2020 strategy around Sanders, beating the anti-socialism drum incessantly and attempting to tether every Democrat on the ballot to what they call a creep away from capitalism and toward collectivism.
“A lot of people think that in that crowded field, he could break out,” said Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.). He added: “If we can run a race against a person that’s an out-of-the-closet socialist and promoting socialist ideas, it’s a great contrast for us.”
The strategy shows Republicans are much more comfortable talking about Sanders and tying other Democrats to his brand of socialism than they are in defending this year's meager legislative agenda. But Republicans could be making the same mistake Democrats made four years ago, when Trump launched his presidential campaign and they began salivating over the prospect of a Senate sweep.
That misunderstanding of Trump’s appeal is now the subject of repeated examination by Democratic politicians and strategists.
“I would suggest they underestimate me at their own peril and I hope they do,” Sanders said in an interview. Republicans are unlikely to run on their own forward-leaning agenda, he added, “So they have to figure out some boogeyman that they think they can run against.”
Though Republicans will try to attach the socialist label to anyone who endorses sweeping expansions of government health care programs and climate change legislation, GOP lawmakers and Trump allies concede it would work much better against Sanders than it would against some of his rivals. Independent voters tired of Trump might hold their nose and back him again if Sanders were the alternative, the GOP logic goes, in turn lifting vulnerable Republican senators to victory. However, one Democrat working on Senate races said a Sanders nomination could help individual Democratic congressional candidates assert their independence from their party in key races.
Democrats have a clear but narrow path to the Senate majority that hinges largely on picking up seats in states like Colorado, Maine, North Carolina, and Arizona, and defending incumbents in Michigan, Alabama, New Hampshire and Virginia. Democrats need to net at least three Senate seats to win the chamber.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is urging at-risk Republicans to emphasize to voters that the GOP Senate is a “firewall against socialism in this country.” And apparently they're listening.
Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner, perhaps the most endangered Republican up next year, is lacing into Sanders’ proposal to let prisoners vote as “not who America is” and the “antithesis [of] our values.” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), up for reelection next year, said his fortunes will improve if he gets to run against Sanders because he can cast his race as "a referendum between free enterprise and socialism."
[S]ome Democratic senators said privately they agreed with Republicans that a Sanders nomination would be too easy for the GOP to demagogue. Some fretted about the down-ballot effect he would have on Senate and House races if he were to win the nomination. They declined to speak publicly because it's early in the race and they didn't want to exacerbate tensions within the party.
Two moderate Democrats, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Jon Tester of Montana, both acknowledged that the GOP’s strategy of painting the entire Democratic Party as in lockstep with Sanders could work in a national election. But Tester, who won reelection in deep red Montana last year, said Republicans are merely deflecting, given their own heartburn over Trump.

Tuesday Morning Male Beauty

Monday, May 06, 2019

Former Prosecutors: Were He Not President, Trump Would Have Been Indicted

Over the weekend, I saw a headline of a poll that said 57% of Americans think Trump is a criminal. That view ties in well with the opinion of four hundred and fifty (450) former federal prosecutors who state that but for his occupancy of the White House, Trump would have been indicted for obstruction of justice. Sadly, the view of the Justice Department policy - and it is only a policy - that a sitting president cannot be indicted places the holder of the office of president above the law.   The obvious conclusion is that William Barr is more concerned with protection Trump very wide ass and duping the American public that providing an honest analysis of Trump's wrong doings.  The Washington Post looks at the statement of the prosecutors.  Here are highlights:
More than 450 former federal prosecutors who worked in Republican and Democratic administrations have signed on to a statement asserting special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s findings would have produced obstruction charges against President Trump — if not for the office he holds.
The statement — signed by myriad former career government employees as well as high-profile political appointees — offers a rebuttal to Attorney General William P. Barr’s determination that the evidence Mueller uncovered was “not sufficient” to establish that Trump committed a crime.
“Each of us believes that the conduct of President Trump described in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report would, in the case of any other person not covered by the Office of Legal Counsel policy against indicting a sitting President, result in multiple felony charges for obstruction of justice,” the former federal prosecutors wrote.
“We emphasize that these are not matters of close professional judgment,” they added. “Of course, there are potential defenses or arguments that could be raised in response to an indictment of the nature we describe here. . . . But, to look at these facts and say that a prosecutor could not probably sustain a conviction for obstruction of justice — the standard set out in Principles of Federal Prosecution — runs counter to logic and our experience.”
The statement is notable for the number of people who signed it — 375 as of early Monday afternoon, growing to 459 in the hours after it published — and the positions and political affiliations of some on the list. Among the high-profile signers are Bill Weld, a former U.S. attorney and Justice Department official in the Reagan administration who is running against Trump for the Republican presidential nomination; Donald Ayer, a former deputy attorney general in the George H.W. Bush administration; John S. Martin, a former U.S. attorney and federal judge appointed to his posts by Republican presidents; Paul Rosenzweig, who served as senior counsel to independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr; and Jeffrey Harris, who worked as the principal assistant to Rudolph W. Giuliani when he was at the Justice Department in the Reagan administration.
The list also includes more than 20 former U.S. attorneys and more than 100 people with at least 20 years of service at the Justice Department — most of them former career officials. The signers worked in every presidential administration since that of Dwight D. Eisenhower. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), a former federal prosecutor, joined the letter after news of it broke, and Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), chair of the House Intelligence Committee, tweeted his support for its premise .
“We strongly believe that Americans deserve to hear from the men and women who spent their careers weighing evidence and making decisions about whether it was sufficient to justify prosecution, so we agreed to send out a call for signatories,” Vail said. “The response was overwhelming. This effort reflects the voices of former prosecutors who have served at DOJ and signed the statement.” Weld said by the time he reviewed the statement, it already had more than 100 signatures, and he affixed his name because he had concluded the evidence “goes well beyond what is required to support criminal charges of obstruction of justice.”
“I hope the letter will be persuasive evidence that Attorney General Barr’s apparent legal theory is incorrect,” he said.
Many legal analysts have wondered since Mueller’s report was released whether the special counsel believed he had sufficient evidence to charge Trump and was just unwilling to say it out loud. “All of this conduct — trying to control and impede the investigation against the President by leveraging his authority over others — is similar to conduct we have seen charged against other public officials and people in powerful positions,” the former federal prosecutors wrote in their letter. They wrote that prosecuting such cases was “critical because unchecked obstruction — which allows intentional interference with criminal investigations to go unpunished — puts our whole system of justice at risk.”

No one is above the law.  Trump needs to be indicted, tried, and hopefully convicted and removed from office. 

Monday Morning Male Beauty

Dedicated to the despicable Sultan of Brunei.

Sunday, May 05, 2019

Facing Backlash Brunei Says It Will Not Enforce Gay Sex Death Penalty

Protesters outside the Dorchester hotel in London, owned by Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah.

I continue to see fundamentalist religions of all stripes as a bane on human existence and responsible for far more misery and death than their often pathetic charitable endeavors can ever outweigh. Fundamentalism, be it Christian or Islamic, puts literal interpretations of selective passages from supposed scripture to target those who do not conform or who hold differing faiths,  By both design and default, hatred of others and a division of society are the primary fruits of fundamentalism.  Fortunately, both in the USA and around the world - at least outside of Muslim countries - more and more people are recognizing fundamentalist religion and its message of hate and inhumanity towards others as reprehensible and unacceptable.  This is the lesson the Sultan of Brunei has learned the hard way after implementing "Sharia law" that would subject gays to death by stoning. The backlash to this medieval law has been wide and intense, ranging from boycotts of the top tier hotels owned by the Sultan to nations refusing to have their personnel in Brunei.   A piece in The Guardian looks at the Sultan's announcement that the barbaric law will not be enforced (while an improvement, it needs to be repealed).  Here are article highlights:
Brunei’s Sultan, Hassanal Bolkiah, has extended a moratorium on the death penalty to incoming legislation on punishments for gay sex, after a global backlash led by celebrities such as George Clooney and Elton John.
The country provoked an outcry when it rolled out its interpretation of Islamic laws, or sharia, on 3 April, punishing sodomy, adultery and rape with death, including by stoning.
Brunei has consistently defended its right to implement the laws, . . . . However, in a rare response to criticism aimed at the oil-rich state, the sultan said on Sunday that the death penalty would not be enforced in the implementation of the sharia penal code order (SPCO).
The vastly wealthy sultan, who once piloted his own 747 airliner to meet the former US president Barack Obama, often faces criticism from activists who view his absolute monarchy as despotic, but it is unusual for him to respond.
The sultan’s office released an official English translation of his speech, which is not common practice.
“Both the common law and the sharia law aim to ensure peace and harmony of the country,” he said. “They are also crucial in protecting the morality and decency of the country as well as the privacy of individuals.”
The law’s implementation, which the UN condemned, prompted celebrities and rights groups to seek a boycott on hotels owned by the sultan, including the Dorchester in London and the Beverley Hills hotel in Los Angeles.
Several multinational companies have since banned staff from using the sultan’s hotels, while some travel companies have stopped promoting Brunei as a tourist destination.