Saturday, July 27, 2019

More Saturday Male Beauty

Liberty University’s "Culture of Fear"

Evangelical Christians - and far right Catholics - talk about "Christian love" and a supposedly loving god, yet the entire premise of their faith construct is one based on fear: fear of eternal damnation and fear of ostracism if one does not conform to medieval dogma.  Knowledge, science and freedom of thought are evil and to be rejected.  And as for loving others, it's the opposite of what one sees in reality where hatred of others is the most defining attribute of "conservative Christians."  In Virginia, two of the leading purveyors of this toxic form of Christianity are CBN/Regent University based in Virginia Beach and Liberty University in Lynchburg. Of the two, perhaps the more toxic and bigger blight on Virginia is Liberty where the reality is the opposite of what the name suggests.  As a lengthy piece in the Washington Post lays out, a climate of fear and censorship reigns under the rule of Jerry Falwell, Jr., a Trump supporter embroiled with his own possible dirty linen involving a young pool boy. Read the entire piece.  Here are highlights which suggest Liberty is the last place one should consider sending their child:

In my first week as editor in chief of the Champion, Liberty University’s student-run weekly, our faculty adviser, Deborah Huff, ordered me to apologize. I’d noticed that our evangelical school’s police department didn’t publish its daily crime log online, as many other private university forces do, so I searched elsewhere for crime information I might use in an article. I called the Virginia Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators to find out what the law required Liberty to disclose. But the public affairs worker there told the Liberty University Police Department, which complained to Huff. She called to upbraid me: Apparently, I had endangered our newspaper’s relationship with the LUPD. Huff and Chief Richard Hinkley convened a meeting inside a police department conference room, and Huff sat next to me while I proffered the forced apology to Hinkley — for asking questions. Huff, too, was contrite, assuring the police chief that it wouldn’t happen again, because she’d keep a better eye on me.
This wasn’t exactly a rude awakening. I’d spent the previous three years watching the university administration, led by President Jerry Falwell Jr. (who took a very micromanaging interest), meddle in our coverage, revise controversial op-eds and protect its image by stripping damning facts from our stories. Still, I stuck around. I thought that if I wrote with discretion and kept my head down, I could one day win enough trust from the university to protect the integrity of our journalism.
Instead, when my team took over that fall of 2017, we encountered an “oversight” system — read: a censorship regime — that required us to send every story to Falwell’s assistant for review. Any administrator or professor who appeared in an article had editing authority over any part of the article; they added and deleted whatever they wanted. Falwell called our newsroom on multiple occasions to direct our coverage personally.
Eventually I quit, and the School of Communication decided not to replace me, turning the paper into a faculty-run, student-written organ and seizing complete control of its content. Student journalists must now sign a nondisclosure agreement that forbids them from talking publicly about “editorial or managerial direction, oversight decisions or information designated as privileged or confidential.” The form also states that the students understand they are “privileged” to receive “thoughts, opinions, and other statements” from university administrators.
It was one example of an infrastructure of thought-control that Falwell and his lieutenants have introduced into every aspect of Liberty University life. Faculty, staff and students on the Lynchburg, Va., campus have learned that it’s a sin to challenge the sacrosanct status of the school or its leaders, who mete out punishments for dissenting opinions (from stripping people of their positions to banning them from the school). This “culture of fear,” as it was described by several of the dozen Liberty denizens who talked to me for this story — most of them anonymously, to protect their jobs or their standing — worsened during my four years on campus because of the 2016 presidential election.
[T]he school’s methods became even more aggressive after Falwell endorsed Donald Trump early that year, according to multiple current and former faculty members. “The closer you get to the president’s office,” says former history professor Brian Melton, discussing a chilling effect on campus, “the worse it becomes.” Falwell’s staff now operates masterfully to squash challenges to his views and his rise in national political influence.
The dissent that did exist — from off-message campus speakers, insufficiently sycophantic board members, student activists and our newspaper staff — was ruthlessly neutralized. Liberty, founded on principles of fundamental Christianity, is now a place that has zero tolerance for new questions and ideas. Those who harbor them must remain silent, or leave.
One cause of perpetual insecurity at Liberty is the school’s militant refusal to award tenure to any faculty member (outside the law school, which must offer it for accreditation). Instructors are instead hired on year-to-year contracts; during the spring semester, they find out whether they will be coming back the next fall.
The result is constant, erratic faculty turnover. One recently fired teacher describes the spring as a cycle of stressed-out, fearful professors wandering into each other’s offices to ask if they had their contracts renewed yet. “If you’re a conservative Christian in the academic world, the chances of you getting a job are nil in many areas,” says Melton, who worked at Liberty as an associate professor for 15 years before resigning because of what he described as the school’s surveillance and fear tactics. “The administration knows that, and . . . they wield that very effectively, keeping people quiet.”
Late-notice faculty removals have also become more commonplace, according to Melton, stemming in part from Falwell’s stated desire to tame the teaching corps. . . . This June, a dozen faculty members at Liberty’s School of Divinity were notified that their contracts would not be renewed. By that late in the year, it is too late to find another job in higher education for the fall.
For former faculty members, Liberty’s culture of fear can live on. The school often requires terminated professors to sign a nondisclosure agreement if they want their severance packages, several told me — a practice that is extremely uncommon in higher education, according to Robert Bezemek, a California lawyer who represents labor unions at universities. (As Melton puts it, “They force this NDA on you by leveraging the ability to feed your family against you.”) Even former teachers who hadn’t signed NDAs told me they feared that talking to me on the record would somehow get them blacklisted from jobs elsewhere or imperil their friends who still work at Liberty.
Another onetime instructor declined to use his university-issued laptop because he thought Liberty had equipped it with spyware.
There is no evidence of Liberty firing a faculty member explicitly for his or her political beliefs, but everyone I spoke to believed that the school could easily manufacture some other pretense. “There is zero trust between the administration and faculty,” Melton says. FIRE, a nonprofit that fights for free speech on campus, put Liberty on its 2019 list of the 10 worst colleges for freedom of speech.
Things aren’t much better for the 15,000 students on campus. In 2009, Liberty withdrew funding and recognition for its College Democrats chapter because, as Mark Hine, the senior vice president of student affairs, put it, the national party defends abortion, opposed the Defense of Marriage Act, supported “the ‘LGBT’ agenda, hate crimes, which include sexual orientation and gender identity, socialism, etc.”
Student leaders have consistently helped administrators enforce the culture. After the Charlottesville rally in August 2017, members of Liberty’s Student Government Association drafted a statement expressing solidarity with Heather Heyer, the protester murdered by a neo-Nazi, and all people demonstrating against white nationalism. Then-SGA President Caleb Johnson refused to release the message and send it to university administrators for fear of what Falwell might think. . . . “There’s 100 percent an atmosphere of fear at Liberty,” says Caleb Fitzpatrick, who was then the student government’s speaker of the House and helped draft the statement. “There was a need to avoid being seen as a liberal or progressive, or even being different.”
Guests at the school who deviate from the prescribed philosophy can be targeted, too. . . . . The end finally came for the Champion when a left-leaning faith group, the Red Letter Christians, organized a “Lynchburg Revival” in April 2018 to protest Falwell’s support of Trump and what the group called “toxic evangelicalism.” Two days beforehand, Liberty’s police department notified RLC leader Shane Claiborne that he would be arrested if he set foot on campus.
I graduated last year. Since then, I’ve tried to put Liberty — and the stress and self-doubt that officials there saddled me with — behind me.

Revisiting the Past - High School Reunion

Onondaga Central High School.
For those who have read posts from the early period of this blog, high school and growing up in the closet was not an easy journey for me - like so many other LGBT youths.  My high school, Onondaga Central High School, pictured above, was small, rural (about 10 miles south of Syracuse, New York) and everyone knew everyone - for good and for bad.  There were few secrets.  At the time, there were roughly 750 students in grades 7-12 and there was nowhere from a smart, extremely shy and semi-nerdy kid who did not get the team sports gene to hide. I finally found a niche in cross country and earned a varsity letter and graduated with a New York State Regents diploma and a Regent's scholarship.  

This week I am back for a high school reunion - the husband has been a good sport so far even though he knows no one - and we went to the informal gathering last evening with the formal reunion dinner tonight.  Things went smoothly and one thing I wish my young self had known was that in the long run, high school social drama does not matter, especially if one goes on to college and leaves the area.  You will have many opportunities to re-create yourself.  Just be patient. That said, your high school years do nonetheless shape who you are and the positive friendships are things that can be treasured.

Being back in the Syracuse area for the first time in 20 years has been interesting as well.  Since there is not much hotel wise close to my school, we are staying a few blocks from Syracuse University ("SU") at the Skyler Hotel (part of the Hilton conglomerate) housed in a former Jewish temple. The place is remarkable and it is so nice to see a historic building saved and reincarnated.  After touring part of the main SU campus, we went to the Armory District which is full of shops - we found a great clothing store - and eateries.  A number of gay and gay friendly clubs/establishments are close at hand as well.  Overall, despite what one hears about "rust belt" cities, Syracuse looks good and very livable if one can handle the snowy winters. 

Today, we plan on first visiting a downtown street fair, then visiting apple orchards still owned by families my family knew years ago: McLusky Orchards and Beak & Skiff Orchards.  The latter has grown exponentially and has hard  cider - last night we had some of its 1911 blend named for the year the orchard was founded - and a distillery.  This afternoon, there will be a tour of the greatly renovated high school school, and the formal reunion dinner on the shores of Otisco Lake, the smallest of the Finger Lakes.  Making it all better is a great day weather wise.

Saturday Morning Male Beauty

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

The Cruelty of the GOP’s Food Stamp Policy

Increasingly, the Republican Party has had to rely on "conservative" Christians as part of its core base. These are people who claim to support Christ's message yet seemingly ignore his exhortations to care for the less fortunate, including feeding the poor and hungry. These claims are exposed, in fact lies, if one looks at the policies of the political party these self-proclaimed Christians support: slashing the social safety net to give tax breaks to the wealthy.  Nowadays, the only things that matter to these people - other than foolishly thinking they will benefit with lower taxes themselves - is seeking to harm LGBT individuals, obsessing over abortion (while caring nothing for children once they are born) and demonizing non-white immigrants.  The disconnect from Christ's message could hardly be more complete. Now, Trump is about to make the GOP war on the poor even more extreme and evangelicals seemingly are cheering on his agenda.  Here are highlights from a piece in the New York Times
On Tuesday, the Trump administration announced proposed rules that would cut more than three million people off food assistance. This latest plan confirms what many have long suspected: The only thing unifying its policies on poverty is cruelty. Prior right-ring assaults on the poor at least claimed some semblance of a coherent theme. In contrast, this proposal, and earlier ones, are a grab-bag of mutually inconsistent ideas seemingly selected only to maximize harm.
When President Ronald Reagan attacked anti-poverty programs, he claimed to be limiting assistance to the poorest of the poor. He insisted he was protecting a “safety net” for the “truly needy.” To do this, he denied aid to millions of working families. Under the rules he pushed through Congress, almost any wages were enough to disqualify a family from cash assistance and Medicaid within a few months. Working families had their food assistance cut and their paperwork requirements increased.
Of course, his concern for the extremely poor went only so far: The savings from these cuts paid for his massive tax cut for the rich, not for helping the poorest families afford food or housing.
A decade later, another Republican, Newt Gingrich, the speaker of the House, carried out even deeper cuts to anti-poverty programs, contending he was addressing a failure of recipients of public benefits to work. . . . Most welfare recipients did in fact seek and find work — but they were promptly thrown off the assistance rolls when they did.
Here again, the supposed concern was more rhetorical than real: The savings from cutting off recipients without current employment did not go into supports for the working poor but rather more tax cuts for the rich.
But at least Mr. Gingrich had a story. The Trump administration does not.
Last winter, it claimed to be picking up the Gingrich “pro-work” baton when it proposed to end food assistance to almost a million people unable to find work in areas with high unemployment. Nothing in the plan would give job training, help people find work or even do community service in exchange for continued assistance while seeking paid employment.
This spring, the administration released a murky plan to lower the federal poverty line, perhaps sharply. If the administration follows through and lowers the income thresholds that federal and state agencies apply — a change that it probably lacks legal authority to do — millions, possibly tens of millions, of people will be purged from programs that base eligibility on income. Those include Medicaid, school meals, energy assistance and much more. A disproportionately large fraction of these people are members of low-wage working families.
The Trump administration’s initiatives, by contrast, are federal power grabs. Current rules allow childless workers to receive more than three months of food assistance while they seek jobs only when their state certifies that they live in areas with insufficient jobs. The administration would strip states of that power.
The one constant is helping to pay for huge, unaffordable upper-income tax cuts. Mr. Trump pushed through a $2 trillion tax cut in December 2017. This reversed years of declining federal deficits. Most of the benefits went to extremely affluent individuals and corporate shareholders, many of them foreign.
And the day after persuading the congressional leadership to increase the debt limit to accommodate those deficits, the Trump administration announced that, yet again, the burden should fall on those least able to afford it.
How one can claim to be a true Christian and remain a Republican nowadays is mind numbing.  The two are mutually exclusive.

Miami Herald Trashes Marco Rubio

This blog often looks at the moral bankruptcy of today's Republican Party and various Republicans who have put even basic decency aside in their quest for raw power or due to fear of the ever more ugly base of the party.  Too often these craven and/or spineless individuals get away with little public indictment for their behavior.  But not always.  Over the weekend the Miami Herald looks at the despicable behavior of Marco Rubio and how he has sold his soul to Donald Trump and the party base.  The irony is that once upon a time some viewed Rubio as a "savior" of the GOP.  Not anymore.  Here are excerpts from the scathing column:
Witnessing Sen. Marco Rubio’s pathetic response last week to President Trump’s latest racist outrages, it is impossible now to believe that Florida’s senior senator was once hailed as “The Savior of the Republican Party” on the cover of Time magazine.
He was supposed to be a rising star who would help shake the party up after the disastrous election of 2012. The son of immigrants, he would help the party overcome its long-term demographic challenge as its older base shrinks and America becomes ever more diverse.
But Rubio flamed out in the 2016 presidential election, among the last victims of Donald Trump’s brutal, degrading, slash-and-burn campaign — though not before lowering himself by trying to beat Trump at his own game, ridiculing the size of his opponent’s hands, suggesting that it reflected on other aspects of Trump’s physiology.
Rubio tried to regain a bit of dignity when he left the race. “America needs a vibrant conservative movement,” he said. “But one that’s built on principles and ideals, not on fear, not on anger and not on preying on people’s frustrations.”
But during the first two-and-a-half years of Trump’s presidency, Rubio abandoned the pretense of idealism or principles, except, perhaps, in his on-target approach to the crisis in Venezuela. Otherwise, he has transformed from Trump critic to a sycophantic cheerleader — derided by former adviser and Washington Post columnist Max Boot as a “Trump fan-boy” — to the point that he’s willing to kill Obamacare even though his own state leads the nation in enrollment. . . . [Rubio] could not find the spine to do more than mildly criticize Trump after his blatantly racist attacks on four Democratic congresswomen.
Even after Trump whipped a crowd in Greensville, North Carolina, into a hateful froth against U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar that erupted in chilling chants of “Send her back! Send her back!” — Rubio couldn’t muster the courage to truly object to the horrifying display of blatant racism. He called the chant “grotesque,” which it was, but he reserved most of his vitriol for “left wing politicians and many in the media.”
How disappointing. Obviously, he was not the only Republican to punt or remain silent last week. But, Rubio, in particular, should know the dangers of this moment and the path down which Trump is taking his followers, his party and the nation. He should have a deeper understanding of America’s tortured racial history and comprehensive knowledge of the animosity once faced by Cuban immigrants like his parents. He can do better. It leads us to ask whether he thinks his Senate bill, filed Thursday, to extend TPS for Haitians is compensation for his timidity in the face of Trump’s “go back” tweets.
Rubio, far from the Republicans’ savior, seems just another slick politician with his finger in the wind — pushing the party deeper into Trump’s swamp.
Again, Rubio's rejection of morality and decency is not unique in today's GOP.  Sadly, it is the norm.

Wednesday Morning Male Beauty

Monday, July 22, 2019

How Democrats Defeat Donald Trump

My biggest fear surrounding the 2020 elections is that Democrats will by default reelect Donald Trump.  How?  By straying too far to the left and lose moderates and independents - and even the small percentage of Republicans sickened by Trump - and/or those so obsessed with "purity" or allegiance only to their preferred candidate - think Sanders supporters - staying home from the polls.  If one is candid, this latter phenomenon is what put Trump in the White House in 2016. The world and the nation have NOT been a better place for it and a Clinton presidency would have done far more to advance their supposed goals than what has occurred under Trump/Pence.A column in the New York Times looks at this danger and suggests what Democrats should do. The only question is whether the mainstream media will not make the same mistakes of false equivalency and allowing itself to be manipulated by Trump.  Here are column highlights:

Surprise, surprise: Donald Trump has no bottom. Just when you think he has sunk as low as he can, he stages a rally like that atrocity in North Carolina on Wednesday night and sinks lower. But the key takeaway isn’t that he’s a demagogue or a racist: These were facts put into evidence long ago. It’s that Democrats can’t afford to take unnecessary risks, dream deferrable dreams and engage in avoidable distractions as they set about the urgent work of defeating him. The 2020 election isn’t about getting everything that Democrats want and that Americans deserve. It’s about getting rid of Trump, because the price of not doing so could be this nation’s very soul.
The Democratic Party and the Democratic candidates for president need to be smarter, more realistic and more disciplined than they are now. Enough with internal feuding. Enough with taking the president’s bait and bumbling into his traps. If he sets the terms of the political discussion, he wins.
He wants to spend the 15 months between now and Election Day talking about “the squad” . . . Democrats mustn’t follow suit. Absolutely they should defend the four congresswomen, and make clear that they are every bit as American as Trump is.
So say that once, loud and clear. Maybe say it twice. Then move on. Trump wants to define all Democrats in terms of the squad, when they’re but a part of a diverse party and hardly its ideological proxies. So don’t let him.
[N]o one’s talking about health care or jobs: the stuff that actually turns elections and will turn this one. If Trump has his way, this campaign will be a bogus referendum on a bastard definition of patriotism. It will be a race-obsessed and racist jubilee. Don’t play along.
We used all those words in 2016 — racist, demagogue, fascist — and he won. Voters saw indelible examples of this same behavior, and he won. The Wednesday rally wasn’t a new Trump, just a bloated one.
Stop talking so much about the America that he’s destroying and save that oxygen for the America that Democrats want to create.
Stop hypothesizing about Democratic voters’ political priorities and policy appetites and look at the actual evidence of where Americans really are. That’s the 2018 midterms.
It may have minted young progressive superstars like the congresswomen in the squad, but they aren’t especially popular beyond their progressive fan clubs. . . . . so their campaigns weren’t lessons in how to move voters from one party’s column to the other.
Other first-term House candidates’ bids did offer such lessons, so look harder at that crew. Lauren Underwood in the exurbs of Chicago, Xochitl Torres Small in southern New Mexico, Abigail Spanberger in the suburbs of Richmond, Va., and Antonio Delgado in upstate New York — these four defeated Republicans in districts where Trump had prevailed by four to 10 percentage points just two years earlier. None of them ran on the Green New Deal, single-payer health insurance, reparations or the abolition of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.
They touted more restrained agendas. And they didn’t talk that much about Trump. They knew they didn’t need to. For voters offended by him, he’s his own negative ad, playing 24/7 on cable news.
Of the roughly 90 candidates on the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s list of 2018 challengers with some hope of turning a red House district blue, just two made a big pitch for single-payer health care. Both lost. . . . The party did pick up 40 seats overall — just not with the most progressive candidates.
According to a May analysis by Catalist, a data-analysis firm, 89 percent of the Democratic vote gain in 2018 was from swing voters. That’s just one set of numbers, one way to slice the pie, but it does raise questions about the progressive insistence that partisan turnout and a surge in new voters, attracted by bold policy positions, is the path to victory in 2020.
But that hasn’t stopped the leftward lunge of leading contenders for the Democratic nomination, several of whom want “Medicare for all” and many of whom support the decriminalization of illegal border crossings.
That puts them on shaky ground. Polling has shown that when voters are told that Medicare for all would mean an end to private insurance or an increase in taxes, support for it drops below 40 percent.
And according to a Politico/Morning Consult survey published a few days ago, 51 percent of voters support the sweeping raids by ICE that the president trumpets, while just 35 percent oppose them. That suggests that anything that smacks of open borders — which is how President Barack Obama’s secretary for homeland security, Jeh Johnson, described Democratic presidential candidates’ positions in a recent op-ed essay in The Washington Post — puts those candidates at odds with public opinion. Voters see them answering Trump’s extremism with extremism of a different kind.
Nancy Pelosi knows this. It’s why she hasn’t been talking up the Green New Deal, single-payer insurance or impeachment, and the suggestion that this makes her some squishy centrist pushover — some musty relic from a timid era — is bunk. She has her eyes on the most meaningful prize, one she pursued successfully in the midterms: Democratic victory.
So Democrats should listen to her. They should also remember Obama’s legacy correctly. I keep hearing that his 2008 election makes the case for an unconventional, daring Democratic nominee. To a certain extent, it does. But don’t forget that he in some ways ran to Hillary Clinton’s right that year, and he spoke constantly of national unity, bipartisan amity and turning down the temperature of Washington politics.
Many voters still hunger for that. Many are wiped out by the raucous reality show of this presidency. And the way to promise something different isn’t to return Trump’s fire with even more heat. It’s to be dignified and deliberative.
I wonder what would happen if the Democratic nominee simply refused to talk about Trump. No responding to whatever stupid nickname he comes up with. No sweeping denunciation of some deed of his that any sensible American already knows is wrong. Just the articulation of better solutions to America’s problems. Trump would go mad with the lack of attention. And maybe then, thank heaven, he’d go away.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

More Sunday Male Beauty

The Rank Hypocrisy of Trump Supporting Evangelicals

This blog frequently looks at the blatant hypocrisy of far right Christians and evangelicals in particular for a simple reason: the hypocrisy is so wide spread and seemingly never ending.  If one wants to find an argument for why one would NOT want to be Christian, evangelicals are the number one example.  Their support of the GOP and its policies they support are the antithesis to Christ's gospel message.  Add in their hypocrisy surround sex and marriage - they whine about abstinence and the sanctity of marriage yet have the highest unwed pregnancy rates and the highest divorce rates - and they are a prime example of what one should never want to be.  But perhaps the greatest demonstration of their hypocrisy - and I would add moral bankruptcy - is their support of Donald Trump.  Thankfully nearly 40% of those under 30 have gotten the message and walked away from organized religion. But it is still useful to shine the spotlight on these folks in the hope that even more will flee a version faith that is nothing less than toxic.  A recent piece looks at how these falsely pious folks care nothing about Trump's racism or the human rights abuses of his regime yet are simply appalled and upset that Trump has used the words "goddamn" twice of late. Abusing children, separating families, and fanning racial hate and bigotry are all fine, but use of the above term causes these folks to hyperventilate and go into swoons. The Pharisees of the New Testament look like upstanding folks in comparison.  Here are article highlights:
While much of the political conversation this week has centered around Donald Trump‘s open bigotry and racism against four Democratic congresswomen of color, it was something else he said that got the attention of a lot of conservative Christians.
Trump, twice, said the word “Goddamn.”
In one instance, he recalled a business person he knew who usually hated him. But Trump allegedly told the guy, “You are going to support me because you are a rich guy, and if you don’t support me, you are going to be so Goddamn poor.”
For some people, that was the bridge too far.
Imagine how deluded you have to be to think Trump is “better than that.” He’s not. This is who he is. He doesn’t get any better.
Hardesty said nothing about the “Send them back” chants.
It wasn’t just him. Plenty of Christians on Twitter pointed out how offended they were by the cursing… but not, apparently, by the idea that Trump’s critics should go back to where they came from… even though they are American citizens and patriots through and through.
It brings to mind the old sermon illustration from preacher Tony Campolo:
I have three things I’d like to say today. First, while you were sleeping last night, 30,000 kids died of starvation or diseases related to malnutrition. Second, most of you don’t give a shit. What’s worse is that you’re more upset with the fact that I said shit than the fact that 30,000 kids died last night.
These evangelicals are very clear about their priorities. They don’t give a damn about kids in cages, racist attacks against congresswomen, incompetence and scandal at all levels of this administration, or the constant stream of lies from the White House.
But taking the Lord’s name in vain? MY GOODNESS! THINK OF THE KIDS!

Sunday Morning Male Beauty