Saturday, August 31, 2019

Saturday Morning Male Beauty

Why People Hate Religion

Some of the faces of "Christian" hypocrisy. 

I am often accused of hating religion.   That accusation is true when it comes to the "professional Christians" like Jerry Falwell, Jr., Franklin Graham, and Tony Perkins who spread a constant message of hate, as well as the scamvangelists (a term a blogger friend coined some years back) who use religion to line their own pockets and live lives of the tremendously wealthy - Joel Osteen and Pat Robertson among others springs to mind. Then, of course, there are the evangelicals who support the Trump/Pence regime.  And one certainly cannot exclude the Catholic Church hierarchy that has protected sexual predators for decades, if not centuries. The common theme among all of these individuals is rank hypocrisy along with a heavy dose of greed.  Nowhere do you see these individuals practicing Christ's gospel message of feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, giving shelter to the homeless, or welcoming refugees. Other than their loud protestations of their religiosity, one would never know these people are Christian.  Meanwhile, those who actually practice Christ's ideals tend to be invisible and most certainly fail to loudly and publicly challenge those giving religion a bad name.  The result is 40% of the under 30 generations leaving organized religion and others "hating" religion.  A column in the New York Times looks at the phenomenon.  Here are excerpts:
You don’t hear much about Sister Norma Pimentel in the secular press. She’s not a wacko, a hypocrite, a sexual predator or a political operative. Her life’s work, she says, is guided by seeing “the presence of God” in migrant children in the shelter she oversees in the Rio Grande Valley — vulnerable souls that her president would otherwise put in cages.
What you hear about is the phonies, the charlatans who wave Bibles, the theatrically pious, and they are legion. Vice President Mike Pence wears his faith like a fluorescent orange vest. But when he visited the border this summer and saw human beings crammed like cordwood in the Texas heat, that faith was invisible.
Pence is the chief bootlicker to a president who now sees himself in messianic terms, a president who tweets a description of himself as “the second coming of God.” As hard as it is to see God Part II boasting about grabbing a woman’s genitals, paying hush money to a porn actress, or calling neo-Nazis “very fine people,” millions of overtly religious Americans believe in some version of Jesus Trump, Superstar.
In Indiana this summer, Archbishop Charles C. Thompson stripped a Jesuit prep school of its Catholic identity for refusing to fire a gay, married teacher. The same threat loomed over another Indianapolis school, until it ousted a beloved teacher with 13 years of service. He was fired for getting married to another man — a legal, civil action.
The archbishop claimed he was upholding Catholic teaching, an example of the kind of selective moral policing that infuriates good people of faith.
Catholic teaching also frowns on divorce. But when a divorced teacher, at the same school where the gay teacher was fired, remarried without a church-sanctioned annulment and posted her status on Facebook as a dare, the archbishop did nothing. For this is a road that leads to thrice-married, politically connected Catholics like Newt Gingrich, whose wife Callista (with whom Gingrich carried on an adulterous affair before getting married) is now Donald Trump’s ambassador to the Vatican.
Archbishop Thompson says he tries to be “Christ-centered” in his decisions. If so, he should cite words from Christ condemning homosexuality, any words; there are none.
Religious hypocrites are an easy and eternal mark. The French Revolution was driven in part by the revulsion of starving peasants toward the overfed clerics who had taken vows of poverty. The Protestant Reformation took flight on disgust at a church in Rome that sold passages to heaven, enriching men who had multiple mistresses after taking vows of chastity. White evangelical Christians, the rotting core of Trump’s base, profess to be guided by biblical imperatives. They’re not. Their religion is Play-Doh. They have become more like Trump, not the other way around. It’s a devil’s pact, to use words they would understand. 
In one of the most explicit passages of the New Testament, Christ says people will be judged by how they treat the hungry, the poor, the least among us. And yet, only 25 percent of white evangelicals say their country has some responsibility to take in refugees.
[W]hat really thrills them is when Trump bullies and belittles their opponents, as counterintuitive as that may seem. Evangelicals “love the meanest parts” of Trump, the Christian writer Ben Howe argues in his new book, “The Immoral Majority.” Older white Christians rouse to Trump’s toxicity because he’s taking their side. It’s tribal, primal and vindictive.
So, yes, people hate religion when the loudest proponents of religion are shown to be mercenaries for a leader who debases everything he touches. And yes, young people are leaving the pews in droves because too often the person facing them in those pews is a fraud.
They hate religion because, at a moment to stand up and be counted on the right side of history, religion is used as moral cover for despicable behavior. This is not new to our age. Hitler got a pass from the Vatican until very late in the war.
And if you’re looking for hope in the midnight of the American soul, look no further than Sister Pimentel’s shelter for hundreds of desperate children in McAllen, Texas.  Growing up, Sister Pimentel was going to be an artist, she says, until she felt a strong tug on her soul; it compelled her to a lifetime of selfless service. Faith is not that complicated. Religion always is.

Friday, August 30, 2019

Friday Morning Male Beauty

Landmark Study: Genes Influence Same-Sex Orientation

A new landmark study has found that genes - rather than a single gay gene - influence one's sexual orientation and further undermine the claims of Christofascists and right wing Catholics that being gay is a "choice" and/or that it is changeable. These findings, combined with past studies that have looked at embryo exposure to hormone levels that impact sexual orientation ought to stamp out the "choice " myth entirely, although some researchers fear that since genes do not explain 100% of sexual orientation, charlatans and snake oil merchants who peddle "conversion therapy" will misrepresent the findings to justify their lucrative and dangerous scams.  Indeed, many of these same quacks deny that climate change is real despite the consensus of the scientific community, so it is almost a given that their hatred towards gays (and that of politicians who prostitute themselves to such people) will not be influenced by the reality that it is a natural condition.  Here are highlights from the New York Times about the study:

An ambitious new study — the largest ever to analyze the genetics of same-sex sexual behavior — found that genetics does play a role, responsible for perhaps a third of the influence on whether someone has same-sex sex. The influence comes not from one gene but many, each with a tiny effect — and the rest of the explanation includes social or environmental factors — making it impossible to use genes to predict someone’s sexuality.
“I hope that the science can be used to educate people a little bit more about how natural and normal same-sex behavior is,” said Benjamin Neale, a geneticist at the Broad Institute of M.I.T. and Harvard and one of the lead researchers on the international team. “It’s written into our genes and it’s part of our environment. This is part of our species and it’s part of who we are.”
The study of nearly half a million people, funded by the National Institutes of Health and other agencies, found differences in the genetic details of same-sex behavior in men and women. The research also suggests the genetics of same-sex sexual behavior shares some correlation with genes involved in some mental health issues and personality traits — although the authors said that overlap could simply reflect the stress of enduring societal prejudice.
Even before its publication Thursday in the journal Science, the study has generated debate and concern, including within the renowned Broad Institute itself. Several scientists who are part of the L.G.B.T.Q. community there said they were worried the findings could give ammunition to people who seek to use science to bolster biases and discrimination against gay people.
One concern is that evidence that genes influence same-sex behavior could cause anti-gay activists to call for gene editing or embryo selection, even if that would be technically impossible. Another fear is that evidence that genes play only a partial role could embolden people who insist being gay is a choice and who advocate tactics like conversion therapy.
I’m still concerned that it’s going to be deliberately misused to advance agendas of hate, but I do believe that the sort of proactive way we’ve approached this and a lot of the community engagement aspects that we’ve tried were important.”
The moment the study was published online Thursday afternoon, the Broad Institute took the unusual step of posting essays by Dr. Reilly and others who raised questions about the ethics, science and social implications of the project.
The study analyzed the genetic data of 408,000 men and women from a large British database, the U.K. Biobank, who answered extensive health and behavior questions between 2006 and 2010, when they were between the ages of 40 and 69. The researchers also used data from nearly 70,000 customers of the genetic testing service 23andMe, who were 51 years old on average, mostly American, and had answered survey questions about sexual orientation. All were of white European descent, one of several factors that the authors note limit their study’s generalizability. Trans people were not included. [T]he research was much larger and more varied than previous studies, which generally focused on gay men, often those who were twins or were otherwise related. Researchers specifically identified five genetic variants present in people’s full genomes that appear to be involved. Those five comprise less than 1 percent of the genetic influences, they said.
Dr. Neale said younger study participants were much more likely than older ones to report same-sex sexual experiences, possibly reflecting increased social acceptance. He and others noted that older participants came of age when homosexual behavior was criminalized in Britain and that for much of their life homosexuality was classified as a psychiatric disorder.
Dr. Reilly and others said such stark differences between older and younger participants show the trickiness of trying to draw representative biological information from a study population so strongly influenced by society’s changing attitudes. People steeped in a culture that demonized same-sex intimacy might only have the gumption to reveal it in a study if they were risk-takers to begin with.
Experts widely agree that the research was conducted by first-rate scientists. . . . Dr. Neale, who also consults for several pharmaceutical companies, said one reason his team did the study was to ensure less careful researchers would not tackle it first, “given how sensitive and hot-button this topic really is and how personal it is.”
Zeke Stokes, chief programs officer at GLAAD, who was shown the findings several months ago, said, “Anyone who’s L.G.B.T.Q. knows that their identity is complicated and to have science sort of bear that out is a positive thing.”
Over all, Dr. Neale said he believes the study shows that “diversity is a natural part of our experience and it’s a natural part of what we see in the genetics. I find that to actually just be beautiful.”
Sadly, diversity is the last thing that white evangelicals and Christofascists want. Ditto for the Trump/Pence regime that is pushing for the full legalization of anti-LGBT discrimination. 
Sadly, diversity 

Thursday, August 29, 2019

The Link Between Bullying, Social Rejection and LGBT Suicide

The sad reality is that suicides among the LGBT community are higher than in the general population.  This is not due to anything inherently wrong with being LGBT or a higher level of mental illness among those who are LGBT.  Instead, the problem stems from how society treats people in sexual minority groups.  Bullying, of course springs to mind, but also involved is family and societal rejection, all typically fanned by the constant anti-LGBT drumbeat of right wing Christian denominations and, now, a White House regime that is arguing that mistreatment of LGBT individuals in the workplace is perfectly legal. Anyone who thinks that LGBT youth aren't watching and listening to this potentially deadly message is deluding them-self. That supposed "Christians" are in the lead in projecting this message of hatred also directly ties to the growing exodus of the younger generations from religion, a trend that I for one view as positive. A recent piece reviews the linkage between unnecessary suicide deaths and bullying and societal abuse.  Here are highlights: 
Chloe was 12 or 13 years old when she began to question her sexual identity. She felt attracted to girls. She knew she was different from most of her classmates. So she didn’t talk about her feelings at school in the United Kingdom. She didn’t share them with her family, either. She knew they would not approve. “It wasn’t something that would be okay,” she said. A feeling of isolation built up inside her, and Chloe felt more and more like she didn’t fit in. Eventually, she tried to kill herself. Data for 2017 show that 17 percent of all high school students — about one in six — seriously considered killing themselves. That figure was nearly one in every two teens (almost 48 percent) for those who are lesbian, gay or bisexual. And 23 percent of these teens made attempts. Nearly one in three teens (32 percent) who were unsure about their sexuality also thought about ending their lives; 14 percent tried.
Scientists have begun to dig into why suicide risks are higher for LGBTQ+ people, especially teens. . . . The problem, researchers say, seems to stem from how society treats members of these minorities. Changing attitudes toward these teens can help more of them live and thrive. There’s no reason why being a sexual minority means a person must face a higher risk for suicide or other mental-health problems, Mueller says. “What does put kids at risk of suicide is when they feel rejected by families or friends or communities and when they feel ashamed of themselves.” Dealing with all of those stresses, she says, “can be really hard.” Those feelings often emerge when society views those who are different through a lens of stigma. “Stigma is about not valuing people who are different,” explains Ian Rivers. It is about “viewing them as less worthy or less important.” Rivers is a psychologist at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland. When society treats people who are in a minority group as if they have less value, those individuals can feel serious stress. In some cases, stigma leads to bullying. “I was isolated from the boys and they started calling me sissy and things like that,” said Sirus, a study participant. The teasing turned into violence. And, he added, “the teachers did not pick it up.” So they did nothing about it.
In 2015, Mueller and her colleagues found a link between bullying and suicides of lesbian, gay and bisexual youths. As bullying increased, so did the rates for young people’s thoughts of ending their lives, the researchers reported in the American Journal of Public Health. But bullying didn’t fully explain why the rates for LGB youth were so much higher than for other young people. . . . “It’s about a lot of other factors — like rejection from peers or families or shame.”
Young people also can internalize other people’s bad attitudes. In other words, they come to believe what others say. So even though it’s not true, they might come to believe that they’re “not good” simply because they are experiencing a same-sex attraction, Mueller says. To make things harder, society typically assumes “that everyone is heterosexual.” That, she says, “automatically puts everyone who isn’t at a disadvantage.” Burdens created by a hostile social environment “fall hardest on the youngest people” in LGBTQ+ groups, says Geoffrey Ream. He’s a professor of social work at Adelphi University in Garden City, N.Y. Ream recently dug into data from the U.S. National Violent Death Reporting System. . . . LGBT youth were 24 percent of the 49 victims ages 12 to 14. LGBT teens also made up 16 percent of the 15- to 17-year olds. Younger people “don’t have the same level of psychological resources” to cope with challenges that older people do, Ream explains. So children and teens are less ready to deal with the abuse that society may heap on them if they are part of a sexual minority. Youths also have fewer options to get out of the house and find resources to help. Family rejection is a big concern, agrees David Huebner. He’s a psychologist at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. He and others have found that parents’ rejection ups the risk of health problems, including suicide, among young adult LGB people. Name calling, physical violence and being kicked out of home are obvious examples of rejection. But rejection can also be more subtle. For example, parents might criticize a young person’s dress or behavior for not conforming to gender stereotypes.

Thursday Morning Male Beauty

Not usually into facial hair, but this guy is hot.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Wednesday Morning Male Beauty

Exodus of College-Educated Whites from the GOP

In my youth, Republicans valued education and knowledge. Indeed, many prided themselves on their high level of education and it was Democrats who were viewed as being "working class."  There was a reason for the term country club Republicans, a majority of which were educated professionals.  Nowadays, the demographics of the two party has flipped and college educate whites have migrated to the Democrat party as the less educated has shifted to the GOP.  Evangelical Christians who studies have shown are the least educated of various religious denominations make up the core of the GOP base, a base that, in my view, celebrates ignorance and is motivated by racism and fears of those deemed "other" - a term that applies to anyone who is not a white, conservative Christian (using the term "Christian" loosely, since these conservatives show little Christian behavior).  A lengthy column the New York Times looks at the exodus of educated whites from the GOP.  Here are highlights:  

In less than a decade, from 2010 to 2018, whites without a college degree grew from 50 to 59 percent of all the Republican Party’s voters, while whites with college degrees fell from 40 to 29 percent of the party’s voters. The biggest shift took place from 2016 to 2018, when Trump became the dominant figure in American politics.
This movement of white voters has been evolving over the past 60 years. A paper published earlier this month, “Secular Partisan Realignment in the United States: The Socioeconomic Reconfiguration of White Partisan Support since the New Deal Era,” provides fresh insight into that transformation.
The authors, Herbert Kitschelt and Philipp Rehm, political scientists at Duke and Ohio State, make the argument that the transition from an industrial to a knowledge economy has produced “tectonic shifts” leading to an “education-income partisan realignment” — a profound realignment of voting patterns that has effectively turned the political allegiances of the white sector of the New Deal coalition that dominated the middle decades of the last century upside down.
Driven by what the authors call “first dimension” issues of economic redistribution, on the one hand, and by the newer “second dimension issues of citizenship, race and social governance,” the traditional alliances of New Deal era politics — low-income white voters without college degrees on the Democratic Party side, high-income white voters with degrees on the Republican side — have switched places. According to this analysis, these two constituencies are primarily motivated by “second dimension” issues, often configured around racial attitudes, which frequently correlate with level of education.
[T]he surge of whites into the Republican Party has been led by whites with relatively high incomes — in the top two quintiles of the income distribution — but without college degrees, a constituency that is now decisively committed to the Republican Party.
According to the census, the top two income quintiles in 2017 were made up of those with household incomes above $77,552. More than half of the voters Kitschelt and Rehm describe as high income are middle to upper middle class, from households making from $77,522 to $130,000 — not, by contemporary standards, wealthy.
It’s higher income/low education whites who are currently still doing well, but fear that in the Knowledge Society their life chances are shrinking as high education becomes increasingly the ticket to economic and social success.
Low-income whites without college degrees have moved to the Republican Party, but because they frequently hold liberal economic views — that is, they support redistributionist measures from which they benefit — they are conflicted in their partisan allegiance.
High-income whites without college degrees were swing voters sixty years ago, pursued by both parties; now, they are rock-ribbed Republicans. Their share of the white electorate has fallen, however, from 42.1 to 22.0 percent. In the 1950s, high-income whites with college degrees were the base of the Republican Party — although in 1952 they made up just 6.7 percent of white voters. By 2016, this cohort had moved decisively toward the Democratic Party, as its share of the white electorate had grown to 26.0 percent. The key bloc for both Trump and the Republican Party is made up of white Christian evangelicals. Eight out of ten of these voters cast ballots for Trump, and intensely religious voters make up 40 percent of the Republican electorate. Carney and Enos see race prejudice as setting itself against the broad category of “other.” They have devised an experiment that addresses the tradition of allowing “humanity to be divided into two groups: one that embodies the norm and whose identity is valued, and another whose identity is defined by its faults, devalued and susceptible to discrimination.” The 2020 election will be fought over the current loss of certainty — the absolute lack of consensus — on the issue of “race.” Fear, anger and resentment are rampant. Democrats are convinced of the justness of the liberal, humanistic, enlightenment tradition of expanding rights for racial and ethnic minorities. Republicans, less so. This may well prove to be a base-vs.-base election, but even so the outcome may lie in the hands of the substantial proportion of the electorate that is undecided — 7 percent according to Pew. And if Democrats want to give themselves the best shot of getting Trump out of the White House, it is toward these voters that they must make concerted efforts at pragmatic diplomacy and persuasion — and show a new level of empathy.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

More Tuesday Male Beauty

Falwell Pool Boy Redux: Falwell Steered Real Estate Deal To 23 Year Old Male Personal Trainer

The Falwell's "personal trainer" who received a
sweetheart deal on Liberty University assets.
It would seem that Jerry Falwell, Jr., and his wife have a thing for young male 20 somethings.  First there was the story of their million dollar plus financial dealings benefiting a young pool boy at a Florida resort hotel which involved Trump "fixer" Michael Cohen.  Now, there is a breaking story about a very lucrative deal involving Liberty University properties that were steered to the Falwell's 23 year old male personal trainer.  Details of the deal have some auditors questioning whether the sweetheart deal was a misuse of the non-profit university's assets. Others, of course, wonder at the unusual largess directed a then 23 year old.   Crooks and Liars and Reuters both have coverage on the new questions about Falwell.  Crooks and Liars notes:
Falwell, Jr. was so impressed with Crosswhite that he gave the property to him below market, with a guaranteed lease, and a below-market interest rate on the loan to pay the place off. Sweet deal if you can get it. I wonder what he had to do to score that kind of deal.

Here are highlights from the Reuters piece:
Around 2011, Falwell, president of Liberty University in Virginia, and his wife, Rebecca, began personal fitness training sessions with Benjamin Crosswhite, then a 23-year-old recent Liberty graduate. Now, after a series of university real estate transactions signed by Falwell, Crosswhite owns a sprawling 18-acre racquet sports and fitness facility on former Liberty property. Last year, a local bank approved a line of credit allowing Crosswhite’s business to borrow as much as $2 million against the property.
Falwell, one of the most influential right-wing Christian leaders in the United States, has been buffeted by disclosures about his private dealings over the last year and a half.
A Florida lawsuit brought public scrutiny to a relationship between the Falwells and Giancarlo Granda, a young man they befriended while he was working as a pool attendant at a luxury Miami Beach hotel and later backed in a business venture involving a youth hostel. Falwell filed an affidavit in 2018 saying he used his own wealth to lend $1.8 million to the $4.65 million project with Granda.
And U.S. President Trump’s now-jailed fixer, Michael Cohen, has said he helped the Falwells suppress racy personal photos, as Reuters reported this May, in the months before Cohen persuaded Falwell to endorse Trump’s 2016 White House bid.
The support Falwell provided to the two young men, Granda and Crosswhite, has some parallels. Both were aided in business ventures and both have flown on the nonprofit university’s corporate jet.
One difference: When Falwell helped Crosswhite, he used the assets of Liberty, the tax-exempt university he has led since 2008. Among the largest Christian universities in the world, Liberty depends on hundreds of millions of dollars its students receive in federally backed student loans and Pell grants.
In 2016, Falwell signed a real estate deal transferring the sports facility, complete with tennis courts and a fitness center owned by Liberty, to Crosswhite. Under the terms, Crosswhite wasn’t required to put any of his own money down toward the purchase price, a confidential sales contract obtained by Reuters shows.
Liberty committed nearly $650,000 up front to lease back tennis courts from Crosswhite at the site for nine years. The school also offered Crosswhite financing, at a low 3% interest rate, to cover the rest of the $1.2 million transaction, the contract shows.
Falwell has “tried to be a business mentor” to Crosswhite, the university statement said, but that effort did not “cause him to abandon his fiduciary duties” to Liberty.
As Liberty’s leader, Falwell draws an annual salary of nearly $1 million, and is obligated to put the university’s financial interests before his own personal interests when conducting Liberty business.
The Falwells brought the trainer along on Liberty’s private jet during a 2012 trip to Miami. Later, Falwell sent an email directing Liberty to lease its gym space to Crosswhite’s fitness business, which began a five year lease in 2013. The cost, according to a lease document: $2,300 per month.
Liberty said Falwell uses the university-chartered jet to fly every year to his annual physical in Miami. Crosswhite joined him in 2012 “to explain to the doctors Mr. Falwell’s diet and exercise program and help document the results,” the university said. Because Liberty’s board requires an annual physical for Falwell, the president doesn’t have to reimburse the university for the corporate jet travel to Miami, the statement said.
Transactions on such favorable terms could raise concerns over stewardship of corporate assets, and potentially insufficient scrutiny by the board, said Anderson, the independent governance specialist.
In an email sent earlier this month, Corry, citing a Reuters reporter’s “persistent” attempts to reach former board members and the Falwells, reminded the former trustees they had signed confidentiality agreements. He told them they were required “forever” to keep secret what they knew about the university.

Tuesday Morning Male Beauty

Trump's Trade War Deepens Farmers' Financial Plight

In 2016 many American farmers succumbed to Donald Trump's racist messaging and voted for a bombastic con-man who had bankrupted numerous companies, lost millions of dollars for others, and left a trail of unpaid contractors.  Now, Trump's trade war with China is pushing many of these same farmers towards their own bankruptcy filings.  Divine justice?  Perhaps, yet some surveys continue to show strong majorities of farmers putting their support for Trump's racist and xenophobic policies ahead of their own financial well being.  It's a case of the GOP's long ability to use race and other forms of bigotry to induce individuals to vote against their own interests on steroids.   Do I wish these folks well?  Not really and perhaps if the trade war with China continues they will reap the economic catastrophe they deserve.  A piece in the New York Times looks at the deepening financial plight in the heartland.  Here are excerpts:

American farmers have become collateral damage in a trade war that Mr. Trump began to help manufacturers and other companies that he believes have been hurt by China’s “unfair” trade practices.
More than a year into the trade dispute, sales of American soybeans, pork, wheat and other agricultural products to China have dried up as Beijing retaliates against Mr. Trump’s tariffs on Chinese imports. Lucrative contracts that farmers long relied on for a significant source of income have evaporated, with Chinese buyers looking to other nations like Brazil and Canada to get the commodities they need. Farm bankruptcy filings in the year through June were up 13 percent from 2018 and loan delinquency rates are on the rise, according to the American Farm Bureau.
The predicament of farmers is becoming a political problem for Mr. Trump as he heads into an election year. For months, farmers have remained resolute, continuing to pledge support to [Trump] a president who says his trade policies will help the agricultural industry win in the end. While there are few signs of an imminent blue wave in farm country, a growing number of farmers say they are losing patience with [Trump's] the president’s approach and are suggesting it will not take much to lose their vote as well.
Mr. Trump, who regularly brags about an economic boom despite signs of a slowdown, has in some cases made matters worse.
We’re not starting to do great again,” Brian Thalmann, the president of the Minnesota Corn Growers Association, told Mr. Perdue at the event. “Things are going downhill and downhill quickly.”
On Monday, after a 72-hour period during which Mr. Trump twice escalated his trade war with China, Mr. Thalmann said he could no longer support [Trump] the president as he did in 2016.
Losing the world’s most populous country as an export market has been a major blow to the agriculture industry. Total American agricultural exports to China were $24 billion in 2014 and fell to $9.1 billion last year, according to the American Farm Bureau. Exports of farm products to China fell by $1.3 billion in the first half of the year, the agriculture group said this month.
A report from the Agriculture Department this month found that Canadian wheat exports to China have “rocketed” this year, while exports from the United States have plunged.
The administration has tried to mollify farmers by rolling out two financial aid packages totaling $28 billion. . . . But as the trade fight gets uglier, farmers are beginning to panic. Last week, Mr. Trump said he would increase tariffs on $250 billion worth of Chinese imports to 30 percent and impose a 15 percent tax on another $300 billion worth later this year. China has already said it will no longer buy American agricultural products and announced on Friday that it would raise tariffs on $75 billion of exports from America.
The trade conflict’s toll on farmers is spreading to the manufacturers that serve them. Deere & Company, the maker of agricultural equipment, said this month that it was cutting its profit forecast for the second time this year. The company’s chief executive said farmers were delaying purchases because of concerns about access to export markets.
Mr. Trump is also trying to appease corn farmers who complain that an Environmental Protection Agency decision this month will hamper ethanol production. Farmers say the agency’s decision to exempt small oil refineries from a requirement to blend corn-based ethanol into gasoline has led to a drop in demand for the fuel.
At Minnesota’s Farmfest, it was clear that Mr. Perdue’s Southern charm could go only so far. His answers to questions about how the trade war with China would end were curt, and his quip about whining farmers left some with a sour taste.
But many farmers continue support Mr. Trump and express hope that [Trump] the president knows what he is doing in his dealings with China. A July survey from Farm Journal found that 79 percent of 1,100 farmers still back Mr. Trump despite the lack of progress in negotiations with China. And Mr. Perdue largely remains an effective emissary, with the industry still hoping Mr. Trump can pull off the kind of trade deal he has been promising.

Putting one's hope in a liar and con man doesn't strike me as a smart thing to do, yet Trump's continued calls to white nationalism seem to drown out all common sense in some circles. 

Monday, August 26, 2019

Monday Morning Male Beauty

Trump Allies Attack and Intimidate Journalists

Taking another page from the Nazi regime in Germany in the early 1930's, Trump minions and sycophants are now actively targeting journalists and legitimate news outlets that report on the misdeeds and corruption of Donald Trump, a/k/a Der Trumpenf├╝hrer on this blog, and his cronies and cabinet officials.  The goal is to intimidate the press and impose a form of self-censorship that is a direct attack on democracy and the role of the free press in exposing official corruption and wrongdoing.  Anyone who cares about democracy and the U.S. Constitution should be very afraid of what this organized campaign says about Trump's contempt for the rule of law and desire to rule as an authoritarian. Do NOT fall for Trump's claims that he is not directly involved in this effort. Here are highlights from the New York Times, one of the targeted news outlets, on this dangerous and sinister development:

A loose network of conservative operatives allied with the White House is pursuing what they say will be an aggressive operation to discredit news organizations deemed hostile to President Trump by publicizing damaging information about journalists.
It is the latest step in a long-running effort by Mr. Trump and his allies to undercut the influence of legitimate news reporting. Four people familiar with the operation described how it works, asserting that it has compiled dossiers of potentially embarrassing social media posts and other public statements by hundreds of people who work at some of the country’s most prominent news organizations.
The group has already released information about journalists at CNN, The Washington Post and The New York Times — three outlets that have aggressively investigated Mr. Trump — in response to reporting or commentary that the White House’s allies consider unfair to Mr. Trump and his team or harmful to his re-election prospects.
The research is said to extend to members of journalists’ families who are active in politics, as well as liberal activists and other political opponents of the president. . . . . Some involved in the operation have histories of bluster and exaggeration. And those willing to describe its techniques and goals may be trying to intimidate journalists or their employers.
[A]mong the central players in the operation is Arthur Schwartz, a combative 47-year-old conservative consultant who is a friend and informal adviser to Donald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son. Mr. Schwartz has worked with some of the right’s most aggressive operatives, including the former Trump adviser Stephen K. Bannon.
“If the @nytimes thinks this settles the matter we can expose a few of their other bigots,” Mr. Schwartz tweeted on Thursday in response to an apologetic tweet from a Times journalist whose anti-Semitic social media posts had just been revealed by the operation. “Lots more where this came from.”
The information unearthed by the operation has been commented on and spread by officials inside the Trump administration and re-election campaign, as well as conservative activists and right-wing news outlets such as Breitbart News. In the case of the Times editor, the news was first published by Breitbart, immediately amplified on Twitter by Donald Trump Jr. and, among others, . . .
The Trump campaign said it was unaware of, and not involved in, the effort, but suggested that it served a worthy purpose. “We know nothing about this, but it’s clear that the media has a lot of work to do to clean up its own house,” said Tim Murtaugh, the campaign’s communications director.
The campaign is consistent with Mr. Trump’s long-running effort to delegitimize critical reporting and brand the news media as an “enemy of the people.” [Trump] The president has relentlessly sought to diminish the credibility of news organizations and cast them as politically motivated opponents.  Journalism, he said in a tweet last week, is “nothing more than an evil propaganda machine for the Democrat Party.”
[U]sing journalistic techniques to target journalists and news organizations as retribution for — or as a warning not to pursue — coverage critical of [Trump] the president is fundamentally different from the well-established role of the news media in scrutinizing people in positions of power.
“If it’s clearly retaliatory, it’s clearly an attack, it’s clearly not journalism,” said Leonard Downie Jr., who was the executive editor of The Post from 1991 to 2008. Tension between a president and the news media that covers him is nothing new, Mr. Downie added. But an organized, wide-scale political effort to intentionally humiliate journalists and others who work for media outlets is.
A. G. Sulzberger, the publisher of The Times, said in a statement that such tactics were taking the president’s campaign against a free press to a new level.  “They are seeking to harass and embarrass anyone affiliated with the leading news organizations that are asking tough questions and bringing uncomfortable truths to light,” Mr. Sulzberger said. “The goal of this campaign is clearly to intimidate journalists from doing their job, which includes serving as a check on power and exposing wrongdoing when it occurs. The Times will not be intimidated or silenced.”
In a statement, a CNN spokesman said that when government officials, “and those working on their behalf, threaten and retaliate against reporters as a means of suppression, it’s a clear abandonment of democracy for something very dangerous.”

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Sunday Morning Male Beauty

LGBT Youth Continue to Lack Social Support

Growing up gay is not easy, especially at younger ages when one does not even know the term for who one is.  All you know is that you are different even if one cannot describe or quantify the difference.  As one gets older, the disconnect grows stronger and, in my case, high school was a nightmare, as I tried to hide my innate difference.  Today, things are far better for many LGBT youth, but for many others, little has changed over the last 50 years.  While there are now LGBT role models and celebrities and some schools have gay-straight alliances, church and family expectations and anti-gay bigotry still make lives of many LGBT youth a living hell.  Indeed, estimates are that 40% of all homeless youth are LGBT, often thrown out by parents or feeling forced to flee.  Now, with the Trump/Pence regime pushing the U.S. Supreme Court to legalize anti-LGBT discrimination, the stress many LGBT youth experience is likely to increase.  A piece in The Atlantic looks at the lack of social support so many LGBT youth experience.  Here are highlights:

The 12-year-old drag star Desmond Napoles is one of a growing number of kids who have embraced an LGBTQ identity at an early age. He has already come out as gay. Recent postings on his Instagram feed, which has 181,000 followers, feature him posing in a purple wig with red lips pursed, or in a rainbow dress at Brooklyn Pride. . . . “He is spreading the message that it is okay for kids to drag,” his mother, Wendy Napoles, told Gay Star News. And to “explore their identity and express themselves, without shame, without hiding.”
Her son may be precocious, but most queer kids remember feeling different very early in their lives. . . . . Years later, a family photo surfaces—of a boy holding a doll, say, as his brothers roughhouse nearby—that, in retrospect, makes the story seem obvious. These unwittingly campy childhood photos also communicate a reality generally overlooked in society: Budding queer identities have nonsexual elements that often form long before puberty, signaling what lies ahead.
Nevertheless, seeing preteens involved in drag shows—an age-old staple of LGBTQ culture, often performed in gay clubs—makes a lot of people uncomfortable. Critics have accused Desmond’s mother of allowing her son’s sexualization and exploitation. After another preteen boy performed drag in Ohio, state Republicans proposed legislation barring these performances, linking them, without evidence, to child trafficking.
Over time, American society has been steadily making peace with gay adults, gay marriages, even gay political candidates. Yet it still broadly pretends that people are straight until, at some point after age 18, they proclaim themselves otherwise. . . . . by this logic, all things LGBTQ should be relegated to adult spaces, preventing children’s premature sexualization. This explains why the backlash to preteen drag performers like Desmond has been so fierce—and why so many queer kids, with their difference manifesting as awkwardness, are forced to tread the rough waters of adolescence with no social support.
Numerous studies have shown that children who eventually come out as gay, lesbian, or bisexual—scientists call them pre-homosexual, or pre-GLB kids—demonstrate more childhood gender nonconformity in their speech, body language, and choice of activity than their pre-straight contemporaries do. These reports have also produced evidence of a “dosage effect”: The more gender nonconformity someone shows in childhood, the more likely they will identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual as an adult.
Critics instead see adults in and aligned with the LGBTQ community as sexualizing children by exposing them to what a National Review writer calls a “deeply and perversely erotic subculture.” Conservative media have accused Wendy Napoles of endangering her son.
This adult disquiet allows for the continued neglecting of nascent queerness, leaving pre-GLB kids to be mocked, rather than affirmed, fostering another generation of queer people who carry scars into adulthood. “Growing up gay, it seems, is bad for you in many of the same ways as growing up in extreme poverty,” Michael Hobbes wrote in a much-discussed 2017 HuffPost article. A 2015 study showed that gay people as adults produce less cortisol, the hormone that regulates stress—–“their systems were activated, so constantly, in adolescence that they ended up sluggish as grownups”––than their straight counterparts. A 2014 study similarly showed that “stressful life events” inflict more damage on gay kids’ nervous systems than on their straight peers’ nervous systems.
Growing up LGBTQ is isolating, a reality pointedly depicted by a 2016 Saturday Night Live sketch titled “Wells for Boys.” . . . .To that script we might add: Some kids are straight; other kids are gay.
But pre-GLB kids, even if they’re not as forthright in their nonconformity as Desmond is, should not be forced to wait for adulthood to receive society's permission to be themselves. Instead, they need age-appropriate safe spaces—so they don’t have to co-opt more mature queer arenas—in which they can come to grips with their otherness. Queer kids know they’re different, even before most have the words to say so; for their sake, we need to listen a bit more closely.