Saturday, April 15, 2017

Texas Republicans Seek to Nullify All LGBT Non-discrimination Ordinances

Proving once again that no LGBT individual with a sound mind should ever vote for a Republican, a powerful GOP controlled committee in the Texas legislature that would rescind every LGBT non-discrimination ordinance passed by local municipalities and bar localities from adding LGBT protections to current non-discrimination laws and ordinances.  Given the 1996 Supreme Court ruling in Romer v. Evans, it is questionable whether the state law, if enacted, would survive appellate court scrutiny.  In the interim, of course, years of litigation would be required to undo the damage to LGBT individuals during the lengthy court process.  All so that Republicans can prostitute themselves to their Christofascist masters.  Here are highlights from the Houston Chronicle on this anti-LGBT effort:
Entering the fray over where transgender Texans can use public bathrooms, a far-reaching bill that a powerful House committee is scheduled to hear next week would rescind several local ordinances aimed at protecting LGBT people from discrimination.
The one-page proposal, House Bill 2899, would prohibit cities and counties from passing non-discrimination ordinances and would not allow them to add or subtract to the classes of people already protected under state law. Authored by Republican Rep. Ron Simmons of Carrollton, the bill also would nullify all local non-discrimination measures across Texas that do not conform to the state's standards.
Current Texas law includes only race, color, disability, religion, sex, national origin and age as protected classes.
Simmons' chief of staff said Thursday that the lawmaker was not available to discuss his bill because he had already left Austin for the Easter holiday. His legislation is scheduled for a hearing Wednesday in the House State Affairs Committee.
While Simmons' bill does not mention bathrooms, it would replace non-discrimination criteria approved by city officials with those approved by state lawmakers. In effect, localities no longer could allow transgender people to use public bathrooms that match their gender identity in government-owned buildings because they would not be considered a protected class under state statute.
The initial bill, which Simmons told The Dallas Morning News he intended to amend before Wednesday's hearing, drew sharp rebukes from big-city officials, LGBT rights organizations and the state's largest business group. They have staunchly opposed attempts by some Republican lawmakers to restrict local elected officials' authority to pass their own measures against discrimination, which often include provisions to protect members of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities.
Jeff Coyle, San Antonio's director of government and public affairs, said the bill, as written currently, would gut the non-discrimination ordinance that city council members approved in 2013.
Dallas City Councilman Lee Kleinman said  . . . . "We're against it because we have a non-discrimination ordinance, and we certainly don't want it preempted by the state," he said. "This is yet another one of these legislative sessions where they're just so adverse to municipalities; it's unfortunate, and I don't understand it."
Chris Wallace, president of the Texas Association of Business, also hinted at the group's opposition.  "We remain focused on stopping discriminatory legislation and keeping Texas open for business and inviting for all," he told the Morning News, adding that the association was still looking at Simmons' bill.
 Seemingly, Texas Republicans have learned nothing from the experience of North Carolina. 

Saturday Morning Male Beauty - Pt 2

Like Trump, Marine Le Pen Keeps Lying and Re-writing History’s

One of the common traits of the political right nowadays, both in America and in Europe is a total disregard for the truth and a desire to rewrite history.  Here in America, the white supremacists of the GOP base conveniently forget the injustices and horrors that took place against minorities - gays included - during the "good old days" that they seek to bring back.  America's past sins are whitewashed away and the myth of American exceptionalism inflated.  Hand in hand with this is a celebration of "traditional Christian belief" with all its bigotry and mistreatment of others.  Something similar is happening in France under the banner of Marine Le Pen and her National Front. Appeals to open racism are the norm and a whitewashing of ugly, inconvenient facts of France's history are underway.  An editorial in the Washington Post calls out Le Pen for her lies and denials of French culpability in the Holocaust.  Here are highlights:
WHEN A front-runner in France’s impending presidential election obliterates history by denying the country’s well- documented complicity in deporting tens of thousands of French and foreign Jews to Nazi death camps, it is clear something sinister is afoot in the birthplace of the Enlightenment.
Characterizing France as a victim rather than a willing and even enthusiastic participant in World War II’s mass liquidation of French and foreign Jews, Marine Le Pen, head of France’s far-right National Front, tried to remove the indelible stain left by that shameful chapter in her country’s history. Instead, she only ensured the stain attached to her own candidacy.
Founded by her father, the racist Holocaust minimizer Jean-Marie Le Pen, the National Front spent several decades mainly at the extremist margins of French politics. Since taking the party’s reins in 2011, Ms. Le Pen has presented herself as a gentler sort of immigrant-bashing nationalist. But, evidently loath to alienate the party’s old guard, she has negated her efforts to detoxify the National Front with dog whistles to the party’s nativist base. With her willfully denialist remarks last weekend, she went even further — squarely into the realm of historical revisionism.
“I think France was not responsible for the Vel d’Hiv,” she said, referring to the Winter Stadium in Paris where more than 13,000 Jews — mostly women and children — were rounded up in July 1942 before being sent to their deaths in Nazi gas chambers. “I think generally, if anyone is responsible, then it is those in power at the time, not France as such. It wasn’t France.” She added that “France has been mistreated, in people’s minds, for years.”
Actually, it was very much France that carried out the stadium roundups — specifically, some 4,500 French police, deployed in pairs, fanning out through the City of Light beginning at dawn on July 16, 1942, and acting on the direct orders of French officials. In all, 13,152 Jews were picked up over five days: 5,919 women, 4,115 children and 3,118 men; nearly all of them were then deported and murdered.
 Following the war, more than 50 years passed before the French government officially acknowledged the nation’s guilt and collaboration in abetting the Holocaust, in which, of 6 million Jews who died, more than 76,000 were deported from France. Nonetheless, denialism and willful historical ignorance have maintained their grip, thanks partly to Mr. Le Pen, who advanced the idea that the Nazi gas chambers were “a detail” of World War II.
[T]he party, which leads in next weekend’s first-round presidential races, according to some opinion polls, hasn’t really been remade, just recast. Ms. Le Pen has made that clear.

Again, it is not lost - at least for me - that those who talk the most about traditional Christian values are the ones who most want to harm and persecute others.  Religion is a pestilence on mankind. 

A Pew Research Center study in 2015 found that evangelical Protestants in the US were more likely to be divorced or separated than Catholics, Jews, Muslims or atheists. “Jesus says four times in four different places: do not divorce,” Flynt says. “Does divorce bother evangelicals? No, absolutely not. Does adultery bother evangelicals? No, not really, because if so they wouldn’t have voted for Donald Trump. So what bothers them? Abortion and same-sex marriage. Beyond that, there’s no longer an agenda.”

This past week and through tomorrow, many self-styled evangelical Christians have been attending church services for Holy Week and tomorrow will be engaging in acts of outward piety and wearing their religiosity on their sleeves. Don't be fooled by the outward displays.  81% of these same people voted for a serial adultery and sexual aggressor, not to mention narcissist and pathological liar.  Just as telling, they support the GOP agenda to destroy the social safety net and throw millions off of health insurance. In short, they are the antithesis of the true Gospel message.  So why does the media continue to treat them with deference and undeserved respect?  A piece in the Financial Times looks at how evangelical Christians have basically discarded their faith other than outward trappings of church going and protestations of religiosity and piety.  In practice, these people make the Pharisees of the Bible look like upstanding, charity-filled philanthropists.  Here's the money quote on their hypocrisy:
A Pew Research Center study in 2015 found that evangelical Protestants in the US were more likely to be divorced or separated than Catholics, Jews, Muslims or atheists.
“Jesus says four times in four different places: do not divorce,” Flynt says. “Does divorce bother evangelicals? No, absolutely not. Does adultery bother evangelicals? No, not really, because if so they wouldn’t have voted for Donald Trump. So what bothers them? Abortion and same-sex marriage. Beyond that, there’s no longer an agenda.” 
Read the entire article which holds few punches.  As I have said often, I no longer call myself a Christian.  I want NOTHING to do with these foul and toxic hypocrites.  A third of Millennials seem similarly inclined as they have walked away from organized religion.  

How the Bible Belt Lost God and found Trump

This past week and through tomorrow, many self-styled evangelical Christians have been attending church services for Holy Week and tomorrow will be engaging in acts of outward piety and wearing their religiosity on their sleeves. Don't be fooled by the outward displays.  81% of these same people voted for a serial adultery and sexual aggressor, not to mention narcissist and pathological liar.  Just as telling, they support the GOP agenda to destroy the social safety net and throw millions off of health insurance. In short, they are the antithesis of the true Gospel message.  So why does the media continue to treat them with deference and undeserved respect?  A piece in the Financial Times looks at how evangelical Christians have basically discarded their faith other than outward trappings of church going and protestations of religiosity and piety.  In practice, these people make the Pharisees of the Bible look like upstanding, charity-filled philanthropists.  Here's the money quote on their hypocrisy:
A Pew Research Center study in 2015 found that evangelical Protestants in the US were more likely to be divorced or separated than Catholics, Jews, Muslims or atheists.
“Jesus says four times in four different places: do not divorce,” Flynt says. “Does divorce bother evangelicals? No, absolutely not. Does adultery bother evangelicals? No, not really, because if so they wouldn’t have voted for Donald Trump. So what bothers them? Abortion and same-sex marriage. Beyond that, there’s no longer an agenda.” 
Read the entire article which holds few punches.  As I have said often, I no longer call myself a Christian.  I want NOTHING to do with these foul and toxic hypocrites.  A third of Millennials seem similarly inclined as they have walked away from organized religion.  

The Role Evangelical in Our Post-Truth Society

I often lament that the Republican Party has transformed from a political party where knowledge, learning, science, and logic were valued to one where ignorance and a rejection of knowledge and science is celebrated.  Personally, I have long blamed this transformation on the rise of evangelical and fundamentalist Christians within the GOP.  I left the GOP when it became clear that the party could no longer separate right wing religious belief from the civil laws and sought to intertwine the two. I was hardly alone.  Many other moderates fled the party and those who remained tried to convince - delude might be a more apt word - themselves that the party had not fundamentally changed.  Now, even some of those hold outs have fled the insane asylum.  Yes, it is Easter weekend, but I could not help but note a piece in the New York Times that lays the post-truth agenda of today's society square at the feet of where it belongs: evangelical Christians whose fear of having to think objectively based on scientific facts threatens the nation..  Here are highlights from the Times piece:
THE arrival of the “post-truth” political climate came as a shock to many Americans. But to the Christian writer Rachel Held Evans, charges of “fake news” are nothing new. “The deep distrust of the media, of scientific consensus — those were prevalent narratives growing up,” she told me.
Although Ms. Evans, 35, no longer calls herself an evangelical, she attended Bryan College, an evangelical school in Dayton, Tenn. She was taught to distrust information coming from the scientific or media elite because these sources did not hold a “biblical worldview.” . . . “Part of that was that climate change isn’t real, that evolution is a myth made up by scientists who hate God, and capitalism is God’s ideal for society.”
[T]hey believe that their own authority — the inerrant Bible — is both supernatural and scientifically sound, and this conviction gives that natural human aversion to unwelcome facts a special power on the right. This religious tradition of fact denial long predates the rise of the culture wars, social media or President Trump . . .
That innocuous phrase — “biblical worldview” or “Christian worldview” — is everywhere in the evangelical world. . . . . Ever since the scientific revolution, two compulsions have guided conservative Protestant intellectual life: the impulse to defend the Bible as a reliable scientific authority and the impulse to place the Bible beyond the claims of science entirely.
The first impulse blossomed into the doctrine of biblical inerrancy. Scripture became the irrefutable guide to everything from the meaning of fossils to the interpretation of archaeological findings in the Middle East, a “storehouse of facts,” as the 19th-century theologian Charles Hodge put it.
The second impulse, the one that rejects scientists’ standing to challenge the Bible, evolved by the early 20th century into a school of thought called presuppositionalism. The term is a mouthful, but the idea is simple: We all have presuppositions that frame our understanding of the world. Cornelius Van Til, a theologian who promoted this idea, rejected the premise that all humans have access to objective reality.
The conservative Christian worldview is not just a posture of mistrust toward the secular world’s “fake news.” It is a network of institutions and experts versed in shadow versions of climate change science, biology and other fields . . .
We all cling to our own unquestioned assumptions. But in the quest to advance knowledge and broker peaceful coexistence in a pluralistic world, the worldview based on biblical inerrancy gets tangled up in the contradiction between its claims on universalist science and insistence on an exclusive faith.
By contrast, the worldview that has propelled mainstream Western intellectual life and made modern civilization possible is a kind of pragmatism. It is an empirical outlook that continually — if imperfectly — revises its conclusions based on evidence available to everyone, regardless of their beliefs about the supernatural. This worldview clashes with the conservative evangelical war on facts. . . 
“cynicism and tribalism are very closely related. You protect your tribe, your way of life and thinking, and you try to annihilate anything that might call that into question.” Cynicism and tribalism are among the gravest human temptations. They are all the more dangerous when they pose as wisdom and righteousness.
Whether these folks want to admit it or not, the Bible is NOT inerrant and much of it is simply not true.  Mental gyrations to avoid the reality that one has built their life on lies does not change the end result.  It is far past time that these people be ridiculed and rejected in decent society.  They are a cancer that threatens the nation's future. 

Saturday Morning Male Beauty - Pt 1

Friday, April 14, 2017

Friday Morning Male Beauty - Pt 2

Will France Be Putin's Next Rigged Election?

With ongoing investigations taking place in America over Russia's impact on the 2016 presidential election and possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian intelligence operatives (British reports say collusion did occur), many in France worry that their nation will be the next to have a manipulated election that places an unfit and mentally unsound leader in office.  Most disturbing is the fact that Marine Le Pen, Russia's favorite, in many ways makes Donald Trump seem sane and at least somewhat rational and in touch with reality.  An op-ed looks at the possible disaster approaching France and the machinations of Russia that are heavily involved in pushing for another election coup.  Here are column highlights:
Never, it is being said, has a presidential election in France seemed so uncertain. And never has there been so much concern about possible attempts by the Russian leadership to shape — perhaps even interfere with — the outcome.
Last month, President François Hollande of France denounced the Kremlin’s efforts to “influence public opinion” through “ideological operations” and its “strategy of influence, of networks” in France. His comments followed another accusation, by Richard Ferrand, the national secretary of the En Marche! (Onward!) movement, who claimed that the Kremlin was responsible for a series of cyberattacks against the party’s website and that it was seeking to undermine Emmanuel Macron, En Marche!’s presidential candidate, for being, among other things, too pro-European Union. The Kremlin has denied this.
The French government is worried that hackings or cyberattacks may occur during the upcoming elections — for president, in April and May, and for the national legislature, in June. Partly as a result, French nationals living abroad will not be allowed to vote electronically in the legislative election. Computer breaches, propaganda, disinformation — even campaign financing — there are indeed many reasons to worry. And all the more so because the Kremlin’s sapping offensive in France is a vast and long-running project. The Russian authorities have set up at least three influential organizations here. Le Dialogue franco-russe (the Franco-Russian Dialogue) is an association created in 2004 under the auspices of Jacques Chirac, then president of France, and President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia. It includes companies involved in trade between the two countries, and claims that its purpose is to develop “economic cooperation and business relationships.” More than anything, though, it seems to be making the case for lifting sanctions against Russia and promoting the Kremlin’s geopolitical views. . . . According to the French secret services, the organization is “infected” with the Russian foreign intelligence service.
L’Institut de la démocratie et de la coopération (the Institute of Democracy and Cooperation) was set up in Paris in 2008. Its stated purpose is to create “a bridge of solid friendship between two great European nations, France and Russia.” Yet in numerous interviews its director, Natalia Narochnitskaya, has put forward very hostile views. . . . For Ms. Narochnitskaya, Russia offers “an alternative to the West.”
The Kremlin’s third main proxy organization in France is the much less formal Forum des compatriotes (the Compatriots’ Forum). It first convened in 2011 and brings together Russian-speaking émigrés and descendants of émigrés in meetings held at the Russian embassy in Paris. This forum, and others like it in other countries, are at the heart of Mr. Putin’s “Russian World” initiative: an effort to mobilize the Russian diaspora for various linguistic, cultural or economic projects but also to build support for the Kremlin on such geopolitical questions as the war between Russia and Ukraine.
The leaders of these three organizations appear regularly in French news outlets and various media, in French and other languages, that the Kremlin has created and is wholly funding. . . . Sputnik and RT have published numerous articles about, say, the problems ostensibly caused by immigrants, thereby reinforcing the fear and the backlash triggered by recent terrorist attacks. They do not hesitate to distort facts and even invent some.
Backing from Russia can also be more concrete, particularly financial. So far only one such case is known in France, but it may not be unique. In 2014 Ms. Le Pen, the leader of the Front National party, received a loan of 9 million euros from the First Czech Russian Bank. (The bank, now in bankruptcy, counted Vyacheslav Babusenko, a former senior official in the K.G.B., among its principal directors.) A Cypriot company gave 2 million euros to Cotelec, the micro-party of Jean-Marie Le Pen, Ms. Le Pen’s father and the Front National’s former leader.
The Front National has actively supported the Kremlin lately and stated that it is “opposed to sanctions against Russia.” Mr. Putin welcomed Ms. Le Pen to Moscow recently, saying he was “very happy” to see her. She has called him “a man committed to values,” in particular “the Christian heritage of European civilization.” . . . French people, for their part, seem to be skeptical. In a 2015 poll (the most current on this issue), 85 percent of respondents did not trust Mr. Putin or his judgment in foreign policy.
But none of that makes much difference to Moscow. As a recent article in the newspaper Die Zeit convincingly demonstrated in the case of Germany, the central aim of the Kremlin’s media outlets and networks is to foment fear and mistrust outside Russia and to undermine Westerners’ faith in the security of their countries, the integrity of their institutions and the stability of their daily lives.
[A]nyone who is aware of Russia’s internal situation — generalized corruption, a nonperforming economy, widespread poverty, the obvious deterioration of political and civil liberties — cannot but tremble at the prospect that Mr. Putin may have any influence on the presidential election in France.

Guardian Report Claims U.S. Has “Concrete Evidence” of Trump-Russia Collusion

GCHQ headquarters in the United Kingdom

Even as he has moves America towards a possible major war in the Korean peninsula and postures over his airstrikes in Syria to "change the subject," Russiagate continues to plague Der Trumpenführer.  Now, a new story out of The Guardian - which is commented upon by Slate - suggests that the FBI and other intelligence agencies may have firm evidence of collusion with Russia to throw the 2016 presidential election to Trump.  Personally, I hope the report proves true and soon takes Trump (and Pence out of office) so that saner individuals can helm the ship of state.  First, these comments from Slate:
Buried in the last paragraph of a Guardian story about British intelligence alerting the U.S. to contact between Trump advisers and Russian officials is this sort-of bombshell: One source suggested the official [American] investigation was making progress. “They now have specific concrete and corroborative evidence of collusion,” the source said. “This is between people in the Trump campaign and agents of [Russian] influence relating to the use of hacked material.”
That's a bombshell because evidence that Trump advisers were involved in any way with the release of hacked Hillary Clinton-related emails would be an impeachment-level smoking gun in a scandal that currently involves a lot of reports about sketchy relationships but no proof of clearly illegal conduct. 
I hope we find out more as soon as possible.  Here are highlights from The Guardian piece itself:  
Britain’s spy agencies played a crucial role in alerting their counterparts in Washington to contacts between members of Donald Trump’s campaign team and Russian intelligence operatives, the Guardian has been told.
GCHQ first became aware in late 2015 of suspicious “interactions” between figures connected to Trump and known or suspected Russian agents, a source close to UK intelligence said. This intelligence was passed to the US as part of a routine exchange of information, they added.
Over the next six months, until summer 2016, a number of western agencies shared further information on contacts between Trump’s inner circle and Russians, sources said.
The European countries that passed on electronic intelligence – known as sigint – included Germany, Estonia and Poland. Australia, a member of the “Five Eyes” spying alliance that also includes the US, UK, Canada and New Zealand, also relayed material, one source said.
Another source suggested the Dutch and the French spy agency, the General Directorate for External Security or DGSE, were contributors.
It is understood that GCHQ was at no point carrying out a targeted operation against Trump or his team or proactively seeking information. The alleged conversations were picked up by chance as part of routine surveillance of Russian intelligence assets. Over several months, different agencies targeting the same people began to see a pattern of connections that were flagged to intelligence officials in the US.
The Guardian has been told the FBI and the CIA were slow to appreciate the extensive nature of contacts between Trump’s team and Moscow ahead of the US election. This was in part due to US law that prohibits US agencies from examining the private communications of American citizens without warrants. “They are trained not to do this,” the source stressed.
“It looks like the [US] agencies were asleep,” the source added. “They [the European agencies] were saying: ‘There are contacts going on between people close to Mr Trump and people we believe are Russian intelligence agents. You should be wary of this.’
“The message was: ‘Watch out. There’s something not right here.’”
In a report last month the New York Times, citing three US intelligence officials, said warning signs had been building throughout last summer but were far from clear. As WikiLeaks published emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee, US agencies began picking up conversations in which Russians were discussing contacts with Trump associates, the paper said.
European allies were supplying information about people close to Trump meeting with Russians in Britain, the Netherlands and in other countries, the Times said.
There are now multiple investigations going on in Washington into Trump campaign officials and Russia. They include the FBI-led counter-espionage investigation and probes by both the House and Senate intelligence committees.
Adam Schiff, the senior Democrat on the House committee, has expressed an interest in hearing from Christopher Steele, the former MI6 officer whose dossier accuses the president of long-term cooperation with Vladimir Putin’s Moscow. Trump and Putin have both dismissed the dossier as fake.
One source suggested the official investigation was making progress. “They now have specific concrete and corroborative evidence of collusion,” the source said. “This is between people in the Trump campaign and agents of [Russian] influence relating to the use of hacked material.” 

Friday Morning Male Beauty - Pt 1

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Will Trump Trigger a New Major Korean War?

Shooting off one's mouth and being aggressive may work in reality TV, but Der Trumpenführer doesn't seem to realize that in diplomatic circles and dealing with literally insane and paranoid leaders of foreign countries it can have a very serious negative consequence.  Indeed, it may trigger the exact actions that one seeks to stop.  Driving home and listening to a retired intelligence officer on satellite radio, the situation is critical and Trump's loud mouthed braggart routine could be the fuse that lights the fuse for a new nightmare on the Korean peninsula and beyond.  What am I talking about?  Talk being reported on NBC News that Der Trumpenführer may launch a preemptive strike against North Korea if it continues its nuclear development.  This action would play right into the ingrained paranoia of mentally un-tethered leadership of that nation and lead to major assaults on South Korea (including American service members) and perhaps even Japan and beyond.  One of the main problems is that America lacks adequate conventional weapons to significantly knock out North Korea's military capabilities.  Here are highlights from the NBC News report:
The U.S. is prepared to launch a preemptive strike with conventional weapons against North Korea should officials become convinced that North Korea is about to follow through with a nuclear weapons test, multiple senior U.S. intelligence officials told NBC News.
North Korea has warned that a "big event" is near, and U.S. officials say signs point to a nuclear test that could come as early as this weekend.
The intelligence officials told NBC News that the U.S. has positioned two destroyers capable of shooting Tomahawk cruise missiles in the region, one just 300 miles from the North Korean nuclear test site.
American heavy bombers are also positioned in Guam to attack North Korea should it be necessary, and earlier this week, the Pentagon announced that the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier strike group was being diverted to the area.
The U.S. strike could include missiles and bombs, cyber and special operations on the ground.
The danger of such an attack by the U.S. is that it could provoke the volatile and unpredictable North Korean regime to launch its own blistering attack on its southern neighbor.
"The leadership in North Korea has shown absolutely no sign or interest in diplomacy or dialogue with any of the countries involved in this issue," Victor Cha, the Korea Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies told NBC News Thursday.
On Wednesday, North Korea said it would "hit the U.S. first" with a nuclear weapon should there be any signs of U.S. strikes.
On Thursday, North Korea warned of a "merciless retaliatory strike" should the U.S. take any action.
"By relentlessly bringing in a number of strategic nuclear assets to the Korean peninsula, the U.S. is gravely threatening the peace and safety and driving the situation to the brink of a nuclear war," said North Korea's statement.
North Korea is not believed to have a deliverable long-range nuclear weapon, according to U.S. experts, nor does it yet possess an intercontinental missile.
South Korea's top diplomat said today that the U.S. would consult with Seoul before taking any serious measures. "U.S. officials, mindful of such concerns here, repeatedly reaffirmed that (the U.S.) will closely discuss with South Korea its North Korea-related measures," Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se told a special parliamentary meeting. "In fact, the U.S. is working to reassure us that it will not, just in case that we might hold such concerns."
Multiple government officials familiar with the situation say President Trump has talked to Chinese president Xi twice about North Korea since their Florida summit.
China has since sent its top nuclear negotiators to Pyongyang to communicate the gravity of the situation to the North, officials say. On Wednesday, President Xi called for a peaceful resolution to the escalating tensions.
Moscow has weighed in as well: "We are gravely concerned about Washington's plans regarding North Korea, considering hints about the unilateral use of a military scenario" the Putin government said in a press release issued on Tuesday.
The Trump administration, emboldened by their punishing strike on Syria, and by a successful meeting with the Chinese leader, hopes that the Chinese will use their considerable leverage to dissuade Kim Jong UN and his government from moving ahead with their nuclear program. The president also made clear that if the Chinese were unable to defuse the situation, the U.S. would go to alone. On Thursday, he tweeted: "I have great confidence that China will properly deal with North Korea. If they are unable to do so, the U.S., and its allies will!"

The fools who voted for Der Trumpenführer may be about to reap the consequences of their irresponsible, bigotry motivated vote.  The problem is that countless others could end up suffering and even dying.  

Thursday Morning Male Beauty - Pt 2

click image to enlarge

The Federal Courts are Moving America Forward on LGBT Issues

Last week we saw Neil Gorsuch raised to a justice on the U.S. Supreme Court.  The swearing in of Gorsuch left me and many others in the LGBT community feeling both fearful and increasingly concerned about the tilt of the Court should another justice die or retire thereby allowing Der Trumpenführer in a position to appoint a justice that could tilt the Court to the extreme right for a generation.  Much of my fear stems from Gorsuch's court of appeals opinion in Hobby Lobby which make it clear that he believes "religious belief" trumps the physical and civil rights of those disliked by the "godly Christian" crowd.  This concern is intensified by the reality that, while Trump has increasingly back tracked from campaign promises, he has kept his pledged to Christofascists that he would wage war on the LGBT community. A piece in The Daily Beast argues that despite all of these concerns, the federal courts are overall moving the nation forward on LGBT rights issues.  Read the piece and let me know you thoughts.  Here are article highlights:
Is the U.S. court system the last hope for LGBT equality the next four years? Following an avalanche of groundbreaking rulings extending existing civil rights legislation to cover sexual orientation and gender identity, it certainly seems so.
The past week has been a groundbreaking one in cementing the rights of LGBT individuals to equal protection under the law. On April 4, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Kim Hively, a part-time professor at Ivy Tech Community College in Indiana, who claimed that the university administration declined to offer her a full-time position because of her sexual orientation. Hively, who is a lesbian, was chastised by a fellow staff member for “inappropriate behavior” in 2009, claiming that the lecturer was spotted “sucking face” with her girlfriend in the school’s parking lot. After that incident, court documents allege that Hively was not allowed the opportunity for advancement. She was let go in 2014.
The appeals court declined to say whether Hively had indeed experienced job-based discrimination. Instead the decision ruled as to whether such a claim could be made under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prevents bias on the basis of sex but, until now, has never explicitly provided protections for LGBT individuals.
“It would require considerable calisthenics to remove the ‘sex’ from ‘sexual orientation,’” the court decided in an 8-3 decision.
That decision was surprising given that the ruling reversed the 7th Circuit Court’s own decision. After a trial court dismissed Hively’s claim in 2015, she appealed to the 7th Circuit in September of the same year. A three-judge panel ruled against her, citing a lack of precedent in siding with the rights of LGBT workers. The Hoosier State is one of 28 that doesn’t recognize sexual orientation or gender identity as protected classes in state civil rights codes. But last October, the court decided to rehear the case en banc, meaning that all eight court judges would hear it, not just a selected panel.
A particularly compelling aspect of the Hively v. Ivy Tech decision is that five of the judges in the majority are conservative. These include Frank Easterbrook and Richard Posner, the latter of whom penned an eloquent concurring opinion on the need to reinterpret the Civil Rights Act.
“We understand the words of Title VII differently,” Posner said, “not because we’re smarter than the statute’s framers and ratifiers but because we live in a different era, a different culture.”
This groundbreaking ruling, which followed four months of legal arguments, was the first time a federal court argued that civil rights laws should be extended to include LGBT protections. But it wouldn’t be the last. Just a day later, a Denver court sided with a transgender woman, Rachel Smith, and her partner, who claim that their application for an apartment was turned down after the landlord said he didn’t want to attract scrutiny due to the couple’s “unique relationship.” U.S. District Judge Raymond Moore argued that the Smiths’ right to be treated just like any other couple was covered under the Federal Fair Housing Act.
A SCOTUS showdown is a concern for LGBT activists given the recent appointment of far-right jurist Neil Gorsuch to the bench. In his 2004 Oxford University dissertation, Gorsuch argued that the U.S. Constitution didn’t protect the marriage rights of same-sex couples. Referring to marriage equality as part of the liberal social agenda, he later accused progressives of being “addicted to the courtroom.”
Gorsuch’s nomination, which was opposed by 18 LGBT groups, is viewed as yet another component in the Trump’s quiet campaign to erase LGBT people from public policy. Last month, questions about LGBT seniors were removed from two annual surveys conducted by the Department of Health and Human Services, and the White House has rolled back federal oversight on workplace protections for LGBT people passed under the Obama administration.
Although the U.S. court system wasn’t always favorable to LGBT rights, that began to shift with the Supreme Court’s 1996 ruling in Romer v. Evans, which declared that Colorado could not explicitly ban protections for its LGBT residents. In a 6-3 decision, the court ruled that the Equal Protection Clause under the 11th Amendment, which states that all citizens are entitled to “the equal protection of the laws,” prevented the state from singling out LGBT people. That ruling, the first of its kind in the U.S., would pave the way for the Court’s 2003 decision to strike down anti-gay sodomy laws in Lawrence v. Texas.
Conservatives like to malign “activist judges” legislating from the bench, but the truth is that case law has increasingly laid the groundwork for LGBT protections being upheld by courts around the U.S., even in the face of an unprecedented wave of anti-LGBT hate. The trend is both striking and unmistakable.
After Mississippi signed a bill into law that allowed businesses to discriminate against LGBT people, Judge Carlton Reeves issued an injunction against House Bill 1523. “The title, text, and history of HB 1523 indicate that the bill was the State’s attempt to put LGBT citizens back in their place after [Obergefell v. Hodges],” Reeves said, referencing the Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling legalizing marriage equality. And a federal court in Pennsylvania ruled that Juliet Evancho, the transgender sister of inauguration singer Jackie Evancho, had the right to use the girls’ bathroom at her Pennsylvania high school.
Even a major setback in Gavin Grimm’s impending U.S. Supreme Court case offered unexpected hope for the transgender student’s fight to be treated with dignity and respect.
After the Supreme Court, which was set to hear arguments in G.G. v. Gloucester County School Board this term, turned the case back to the lower courts, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals declined to hear the 17-year-old’s case on an expedited basis. As Chase Strangio of the American Civil Liberties Union noted in a post for Medium, it would be customary for the federal court to offer a “short, one-line update” on the case to its docket. Instead, Senior Judge Henry Floyd penned a stirring ode to Grimm’s years-long struggle — which will now be decided after the Virginia student graduates.
Justice for Gavin Grimm will be delayed, but if the recent direction of the courts on LGBT rights is any indication, it’s coming sooner rather than later. The LGBT community may no longer have a friend in the Oval Office, but justice is on our side.
 I hope that the author is correct.  I also hope that Gorsuch will be hesitant to go against the clear trend of lower court rulings.

Rural America's Dying Hospitals

Congressional Republicans are talking about taking a second swipe at "repeal and replacement" of Obamacare.  What's frightening is the reality that in order to attract the votes of the misnamed "Freedom Caucus" - i.e., extreme right wingers who oppose any government spending on healthcare - any proposed bill would be even more horrific than the "American Health Care Act" that Paul Ryan pulled from consideration.  Meanwhile, (i) Donald Trump, a/k/a Der Trumpenführer, is threatening to sabotage Obamacare, and (ii) Republican controlled state legislatures (including Virginia's) are refusing to expand Medicaid under Obamacare.  The result?  Hundreds of thousands, if not millions of Americans nationwide, continue to lack healthcare coverage and their numbers could sky rocket. But individuals, including children, are not the only victims of GOP intransigence.  There are other victims dying financially: rural hospitals are particularly at risk of closure.  A lengthy piece in the Washington Post looks at what is happening in a poor rural area in Tennessee.  Similar stories are taking place elsewhere, and as numerous hospital associations have warned, rural areas of Virginia may soon be joining regions that no longer have hospitals.  Combine the reactionary nature of many rural areas that is a disincentive to new, progressive businesses with lack of hospital services and the downward economic spiral will likely accelerate.  Here are highlights from the Post article:
This town of the Tennessee Delta, seat of a county that once grew the most cotton east of the Mississippi, relied for decades on a little public hospital built during the Great Depression a few blocks from the courthouse square.
The red-brick building was knocked down in the 1970s when a for-profit chain came along and opened a modern stucco hospital on the north side of town. There, thousands of babies were born, pneumonias and failing hearts were treated and the longtime family doctor across the parking lot could wheel the sickest patients who arrived at his office right into the emergency room.
But these days, plywood boards are nailed up behind the hospital’s sliding glass entrances. Black paint is smudged across signs over its doorways. The nearest ER is more than a half-hour ambulance ride away.
The demise of Haywood Park Community Hospital three years ago this summer added Brownsville to an epidemic of dying hospitals across rural America. Nearly 80 have closed since 2010, including nine in Tennessee, more than in any state but Texas.
In every rural community, the ripple effects of a lost hospital are profound, reverberating beyond the inability of would-be patients to get immediate care. Many of the best jobs in town vanish. Local leaders trying to recruit new industry face an extra hurdle.
Haywood County’s budget has become a twisted mess as demand for the services of its ambulance authority has ballooned. “The emergency room now is the back of an ambulance,” said Bill Rawls, who grew up in Brownsville and was sworn in as its first black mayor the month the hospital closed. . . . Rawls is struggling to bring at least an emergency room back to Brownsville. In his office in the small city hall adjacent to the fire department, he has a letter from a woman whose 8-year-old nephew was playing in the family driveway on a late winter morning last year when their Dodge sedan rolled backward, pinning him under a tire. Without a hospital in town, she explained, “needless to say he did not make it.”
The Affordable Care Act has not gained much ground here. In 2016, just 664 Haywood County residents bought health plans through its marketplace for people without coverage through a job. By one estimate, 2,200 residents would qualify for Medicaid benefits if Tennessee expanded the program under the law; the Republican governor tried but was rebuffed by the more conservative legislature.
Unless a patient is transported, neither Medicare nor Medicaid will pay for the ambulance run. The ambulance authority sends out bills, but in such a poor county, “there is no way to turn them over to collections,” Smith said. Some people bring in $5 or $10 when they can. In 2016, the ambulance service wrote off more than $1 million in unpaid charges.
With no hospital in Haywood and 535 square miles to cover, the crews have been stepping up their protocols. They can insert chest tubes, start intravenous antibiotics and intubate patients to help keep airways open.

Every Republican voting resident of Southwest Virginia needs to read this piece and understand that this is what their falling for GOP appeals to bigotry and religious extremism is going to bring them. No local hospitals, the loss of the best jobs in town, and even more difficulty in trying to court businesses to moved to the area. Much of this damage is self-inflicted.  I worry about the children, but the adults are reaping the fruits of their own shortsightedness,

click image to enlarge

Thursday Morning Male Beauty - Pt 1

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Double Standard on Male Nudity and Sexuality

The image that was labeled "deeply offensive"
For almost its entire existence, this blog has posted "male beauty" photos which celebrate the male form and what at least I view as beautiful males.  Critics said that I should omit these posts, but a poll I once set up on the blog showed that 70% of readers said "keep the pictures!"  (Women readers were most vocal on retaining the male beauty posts.)  Why is it fine to glorify - or objectify depending on one's outlook - women, but not men?  The reality is that if one looks at almost any fashion magazine, woman are depicted in all manner of undress and perhaps objectification. The same treatment of males, however, is something that is rare outside of gay publications and blogs.  A piece in Huffington Post looks at the puritanical double standard and the bizarre aspect of American society and male indoctrination that makes male beauty and sexuality something scary.  Here are article excerpts:
The photo in question was my chosen pic for an article I wrote about, among other things, the selling of sex. The site removed the piece and banned me for a week, then sent me a not-safe-for-hurt-feelings email saying the photo was “deeply offensive” and “soft-core porn,” and that I ought to be ashamed of myself for placing it on a respectable, liberal site. They threatened me with permanent blockage if I ever tried such a stunt again, “even in jest.”
And I just thought the photo illustrated my satiric point.
Before I try and figure out the answer, let me post the entire photo, not just the cropped version used for this piece. This is your official warning, so you might want to lock the kids in the closet, close the curtains, hide the bibles, keep the smelling salts handy, and chain yourself to something secure so you don’t throw yourself out the window or jump into oncoming traffic.
But why is it “deeply offensive” and “soft-core porn”? The Urban Dictionary’s Top Definition for the latter is “pornographic material that shows everything excluding insertion or penetration.” Other examples say penetration with a partner and masturbation is okay provided you don’t show ejaculation or an erection or cunnilingus. Playboy is often depicted as soft-core porn.
Forgetting for a moment that the photo has been displayed on mainstream gay sites worldwide, and that almost every “serious” cable show now shows male nudity, Grand isn’t naked in the photo—you don’t even see the Facebook-forbidden butt-crack or pubic hair. He’s not masturbating, there’s no partner, unless you count the showerhead, and he’s not erect. He’s wearing the male version of the type of undergarment female Victoria Secret models show off on posters and commercials and TV ads on a daily basis.
[M]y educated guess is that the photo was removed, and I was body-posting shamed, because you can see an imprint of Grand’s penis. (I hate to sound vulgar, but I felt it necessary to use the technical term.) It’s also homoerotic.
We’ve come along way in regards to male nudity and homoerotism (while straight women are likely to get excited by this photo, the artistic feel of the shot, the clothing, the openly gay model, are geared toward homosexual men). But for reasons that I still don’t understand, we’re major prudes when it comes to male genitalia.
This makes sense in the GOP world, where all risqué photos are taboo and all semi-naked men are an abomination (unless the former are nude modeling pics of the First Lady in lesbian-bondage poses and the latter are the male prostitutes they found on Grindr). We know they’re hypocrites.
Penis-phobia in the progressive world is far more surprising. You’d be hard-pressed to spend a day on social media or looking at ads without finding allusions to male anatomy. It’s everywhere, even in our political discussions. It’s in our puns, our jokes, our masculine “measure of worth”—you can’t even write a sentence about the subject without unintentionally finding a pun. Yet show any suggestion of it in the open and it’s a crude, graphic display.
Not only is this a perverse double-standard, and one that adversely affects the gay community, it reinforces the notion that the male body is shameful. When we’re only allowed to allude to it, and not celebrate it the way we do the female form, it’s tantamount to saying our admiration should be kept in the closet. I’ve met few straight men who will admit they appreciate the nude male body, and many who won’t even admit that a man’s face is attractive. That’s an unhealthy way to live and a choice most women ignore.
Our macho sensibility tells men it’s wrong to admire each other’s physicality, which leads to insecurity, fear, and a general lack of self-awareness.
It’s also time to stop the patriarchal, outdated nonsense about male genitalia and start treating the male body in the manner it deserves: as a thing of beauty, as something to admire, to be inspired by, to get excited about, to love, and to look at.

A parting thought: Could the double standard be due to (i) GOP and Christofascist males being afraid of the desire such images invoke in them, and (ii) such photos reminding the majority of straight males that they look like Hell physically? 

More Wednesday Male Beauty

Pastor Who Said Pulse Victims “Got What They Deserved” Convicted of Child Molestation

Time and time again we see the spectacle of anti-gay Republican elected officials and "conservative Christian" leaders being convicted of sex crimes and/or involved in tawdry sex scandals (think now former Gov. Robert Bentley of Alabama).   "Godless liberals" on the other hand in general - with a few exceptions - do not get themselves continually  involved in such crimes and situations.  To me, it goes to the utter hypocrisy and moral bankruptcy of those who wrap themselves in religion, condemn others, yet are themselves the liars and threats to children.  The latest to deservedly fall is "Bishop" Kenneth Adkins, a Georgia pastor who last year in the wake of the Pulse nightclub massacre stated that the victims "got what they deserved" who was convicted on eight counts of child molestation involving a boy and a girl in his church congregation.  As I have noted before, each issue of the Freedom From Religion Foundation's news letter is filled with pages full of clergy crimes.  Adkins is not the exception, but the norm.  Here are highlights from the Times-Union:
BRUNSWICK, Ga. | In a matter of an hour, a jury of three men and nine women found Kenneth Adkins guilty Monday of eight child molestation-related charges stemming from his sexual relationship with a teenage girl and boy at his church seven years ago.
The controversial, anti-gay pastor showed no emotion as the verdict was read. He will be sentenced April 25. Georgia has strict mandatory minimum sentencing laws; and because Adkins, 57, has a prior record, there’s a possibility he will never again be a free man.
Adkins’ attorney said once his client is sentenced, he’ll file paperwork for a new trial. Kevin Gough maintains the state deliberately withheld pertinent evidence that could have called into question the mental stability of Adkins’ accuser.
That accuser’s mother left the courtroom Monday in tears. Though not wishing to make a formal statement, she expressed her relief that the trial was over and that in the end her son was believed.
The young man, a specialist in the Army stationed at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas, came forward a year ago and told the military about his past life with his girlfriend and Adkins. He admitted offering up his girlfriend sexually to Adkins seven years ago, when he and the girl were 15 and Adkins was 50.
The state claimed Adkinis was grooming the two teens — youths he was supposed to be mentoring — to have sexual intercourse in front of him.
Five of the charges he’s guilty of relate to the female, who denied anything of the sort happened. She lived with Adkins and his wife until about a month after Adkins’ arrest.
“She’s in his clutches,” [Assistant District Attorney] Gropper said. “What he has done to that girl is not only criminal, it is deplorable.”
Despite evidence suggesting Adkins did have some sort of sexual relationships with the male and female, Adkins in his phone call continued to say he never had sex with them.  When asked about photos and electronic messages he sent, he said, “Those were bad decisions. I cannot justify any of that.”
Adkins is a former drug addict who reinvented himself in Jacksonville when he opened up a public relations firm. Some in North Florida looked to him to help them gain black votes. Adkins was fairly successful. . . . Adkins told the Times-Union he was picked by multiple pastors to trumpet their anti-gay, anti-expansion stance.
Often, one of the most dangerous places for children is in church with their pastor.   Rather than worry about false claims of molestation by transgender individuals, parents need to worry about Republican elected officials and their church's clergy.