Wednesday, December 08, 2021

More Wednesday Male Beauty


The Republican Party Base Suicide Pact

Republican elected officials across the country are working diligently to make it harder for non-Republican voting individuals to vote in future elections in recognition that the party's base is dying off and the demographics of the nation are changing.  At the same time, many of these same Republicans - joined by the talking heads of the right - are railing against mask and vaccine mandates and spreading out right falsehoods about Covid-19.  Given the increasing uneducated and evangelical nature of the GOP base - the two go hand in hand - these false messages are being embraced with deadly consequences for the GOP base where death rates from Covid are roughly three times higher in Trump voting counties than in Democrat voting counties.  It's as a significant portion of the Republican base has entered into a suicide pact with the encouragement of Republican elected officials who are seemingly deliberately killinng members of their base while whining - and lying - about "freedom."  A piece in NPR looks at the phenomenon.  Here are highlights:

Since May 2021, people living in counties that voted heavily for Donald Trump during the last presidential election have been nearly three times as likely to die from COVID-19 as those who live in areas that went for now-President Biden. That's according to a new analysis by NPR that examines how political polarization and misinformation are driving a significant share of the deaths in the pandemic.

NPR looked at deaths per 100,000 people in roughly 3,000 counties across the U.S. from May 2021, the point at which vaccinations widely became available. People living in counties that went 60% or higher for Trump in November 2020 had 2.78 times the death rates of those that went for Biden. Counties with an even higher share of the vote for Trump saw higher COVID-19 mortality rates.

In October, the reddest tenth of the country saw death rates that were six times higher than the bluest tenth, according to Charles Gaba, an independent health care analyst who's been tracking partisanship trends during the pandemic and helped to review NPR's methodology. Those numbers have dropped slightly in recent weeks, Gaba says: "It's back down to around 5.5 times higher."

The data also reveal a major contributing factor to the death rate difference: The higher the vote share for Trump, the lower the vaccination rate.

The analysis only looked at the geographic location of COVID-19 deaths. The exact political views of each person taken by the disease remains unknowable. But the strength of the association, combined with polling information about vaccination, strongly suggests that Republicans are being disproportionately affected.

"An unvaccinated person is three times as likely to lean Republican as they are to lean Democrat," says Liz Hamel, vice president of public opinion and survey research at the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health policy think tank that tracks attitudes toward vaccination. Political affiliation is now the strongest indicator of whether someone is vaccinated, she says: "If I wanted to guess if somebody was vaccinated or not and I could only know one thing about them, I would probably ask what their party affiliation is."

It was not always this way. Earlier in the pandemic, many different groups expressed hesitancy toward getting vaccinated. African Americans, younger Americans and rural Americans all had significant portions of their demographic that resisted vaccination. But over time, the vaccination rates in those demographics have risen, while the rate of Republican vaccination against COVID-19 has flatlined at just 59%, according to the latest numbers from Kaiser. By comparison, 91% of Democrats are vaccinated.

The vast majority of deaths since May, around 150,000, have occurred among the unvaccinated, says Peter Hotez, dean for the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine.

While vaccine hesitancy exists in many different groups, Hotez suspects that the deaths are "overwhelmingly" concentrated in more politically conservative communities. "How does this make sense at any level?" he asks.

The consequences for individuals are real. Mark Valentine still remembers when his brother called him to tell him he had contracted coronavirus. Valentine is a trial consultant in North Carolina. His brother Phil, 61, was a well-known conservative talk show host in Nashville, Tenn., who often expressed skepticism about vaccination. . . . . Phil Valentine died in August about five weeks after he announced he had tested positive for COVID-19.

Misinformation appears to be a major factor in the lagging vaccination rates. The Kaiser Family Foundation's polling shows Republicans are far more likely to believe false statements about COVID-19 and vaccines. A full 94% of Republicans think one or more false statements about COVID-19 and vaccines might be true, and 46% believe four or more statements might be true. By contrast, only 14% of Democrats believe four or more false statements about the disease.

Perhaps the most pernicious pieces of misinformation have to do with the perceived severity of COVID-19 itself. The most widely believed false statement was: "The government is exaggerating the number of COVID-19 deaths."

Hamel says that underestimating the severity of COVID-19 appears to be a major reason why Republicans in particular have fallen behind in vaccination: "We've seen lower levels of personal worry among Republicans who remain unvaccinated," she says. "That's a real contrast with what we saw in communities of color, where there was a high level of worry about getting sick."

Despite the media coverage, Phil Valentine didn't believe COVID-19 was serious as long as you were healthy: "He said, 'The likelihood of me getting it is low. In the unlikely event that I do get it, the likelihood that I will survive it is 99-plus %,' " Mark Valentine recalls.

Vaccine researcher Peter Hotez . . . . He thinks the elements of the Republican Party that are endorsing anti-vaccine ideas need to take a big step back. "I'm not trying to change Republican thinking or far-right thinking," he says. "I'm trying to say: 'The anti-science doesn't belong; it doesn't fit. ... Just stop it and save lives.' ''

As I have noted many times, we are witnessing Darwin's theory at work. I am dumbfounded as to why Republican elected officials view killing members of their base as a political positive.

Wednesday Morning Male Beauty


Tuesday, December 07, 2021

Where Have All the Grown-up Conservatives Gone?

A post this morning bemoaned America's lost unity. The post was in reaction to a column written by the recently passed Bob Dole, former U.S. Senator and past presidential candidate. Dole's passing also brings up an issue touched on in my post: the disappearance principally on the Republican side of the political asile of decent, moral indiviuals who put decency, the nation and its citizenry, and morality ahread of personal gain and/or political advantage.  Don't get me wrong, there are unworthy and morally challenged Democrats, but the numbers seem to pale in comparison the the Republicans (just as the number of sex scandals - including gay sex scandals - is far lower among Democrats than Republicans).  Why this is so is hard to pinpoiunt, but Donald Trump's ascension within the GOP seems to have obliterated any requirement of morality and decency among the vast majority of Republicans - hence the likes of Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley and a calvalcade of others.  Indeed, those Republicans demanding accountability for immoral and illegal behavior like Liz Cheney (hardly someone I would have ever thought would play such a role) and Adam Kinzinger find themselves under attack and expulsion from the GOP.  A column in the New York Times looks at this sad state of affairs.  Here are excerpts: 

Bob Dole, the former Senate majority leader and presidential candidate, died on Sunday at age 98. The media was filled with encomiums, which was understandable even for those who opposed much of what he stood for.

It’s not just that he was a war hero, or that he reminds us of an era in which the two parties were willing to work together in the national interest. His life story also reminds us of a time when public figures were supposed to show some sense of responsibility — to possess basic decency, to admit to mistakes when they made them, even to put their lives on the line in time of war. Human nature being what it is, many people who pretended to have these virtues were hypocrites. But at least that was the ideal, and being an obvious crook, liar or coward was politically disqualifying.   Not anymore.

 As it happens, Dole’s death came just a few days after we learned what Donald Trump did after he tested positive for the coronavirus last year. He not only concealed the result but also proceeded to put hundreds of people at risk by continuing his normal activities while refusing to wear a mask or practice social distancing. And when he came down with a life-threatening case of Covid, he suggested that he might have caught it from Gold Star families he had met with after his positive test — that is, he blamed people he himself had callously endangered.

At some level, nobody is surprised; we knew that Trump was malignant to a degree never before seen in high office. But what does it say about the state of modern America that nobody expects him to pay any price for this revelation? The loyalty of his base won’t be shaken; he’s still the favorite for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.

Nor has he paid any price for other character defects that would once have been considered damning. . . . . And Trump seems to have set the standard for many of his devotees. Many of the rioters who tried to overturn the election on Jan. 6 seem to be very sorry — for themselves. Kyle Rittenhouse wept on the witness stand, not because he felt remorse over killing people but over the pain of being put on trial. The Crumbleys, who gave their son the gun with which he shot up his Michigan school and killed four students, also seemed very upset — over having been arrested.

All this from a movement obsessed with the idea of masculinity. Weren’t real men traditionally supposed to be strong, silent types who took responsibility for their actions and accepted burdens without complaining?

It didn’t start with Trump. We’ve been heading this way for a long time. Back in 2006, in the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq on false pretenses and the botched response to Hurricane Katrina, I wrote about the “mensch gap” — the unwillingness of the people then running the country to accept responsibility for their own failures, their eagerness to blame others when things went wrong. Later, during the Obama era, it was striking how many critics on the right refused to acknowledge error when their predictions of runaway inflation or the abject failure of Obamacare failed to come true.

But now the transformation of American conservatism — the same movement that complains about liberal “snowflakes” — into a collection of malignant whiners seems to have reached apotheosis.

I’m not entirely sure why this has happened; the degradation probably began decades ago, maybe as early as the Vietnam years. But there’s no question that it has happened. At this point there are no grown-ups left on one side of the political aisle.

More Tuesday Male Beauty


America's Lost Unity

Perhaps as a nation we have never been as unified as some would like to suggest, but the division now rampant across the nation is certainly more stark than any time in my memory and never before in my life time did one of the major political parties actively and deliberately stoke hatred of other citizens for perceived political advantage.  How we arrived at this point where the nation is tearing itself apart is hard to say definitively.  One problem is perhaps that political campaigns have become so costly and largely unending that quality individuals simply no longer desire to enter the political arena and the opportunists and misognists have replaced them.  Another possible factor is the stranglehold the Christofascists and evangelicals now hold on the Republican Party since for decades these people have used fear and hatred to motivate their followers as the attack gays, non-Christians and so-called liberals who fail to embrace their toxic belief system. Then too there is the Internet which rather than unifying citizens has allowed the further dissemination of hate and and bald untruths.  Whatever the causes, the nation is suffering from it as noted in a column by the late Bob Dole - the last GOP presidential candidate I truly supported.  Unlike Dole, on this 80th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor I am not optimistic when it comes to doing what's right, especially on the GOP side of the aisle.  Here are column highlights:

My home at birth was a three-room house. I grew up during the Dust Bowl, when so many of us helplessly watched our livelihoods blow away with the wind. I have always felt humbled to live in a nation that would allow my unlikely story to unfold.

Many nights during my time as majority leader, I would step out on my office balcony overlooking the National Mall and be reminded of what made my journey possible. Facing me were monuments to our nation’s first commander in chief, the author of our Declaration of Independence, and the president who held our union together. In the distance were the countless graves of those who gave their lives so that we could live free.

That inspiring view came back to me as I watched the Jan. 6 riots at the Capitol. I imagined the view of those monuments and headstones obscured by clouds of tear gas. I thought about the symbol of our democracy consumed by anger, hatred and violence.

There has been a lot of talk about what it will take to heal our country. We have heard many of our leaders profess “bipartisanship.” But we must remember that bipartisanship is the minimum we should expect from ourselves.

America has never achieved greatness when Republicans and Democrats simply manage to work together or tolerate each other. We have overcome our biggest challenges only when we focused on our shared values and experiences. These common ties form much stronger bonds than political parties.

I always served my country best when I did so first and foremost as an American. I fought for veterans benefits not as a Republican but as someone who witnessed the heroism of our service members firsthand. I advocated for those with disabilities not as a member of the GOP but as someone who personally understood the limitations of a world without basic accommodations. I stood up for those going hungry not as a leader in my party but as someone who had seen too many folks sweat through a hard day’s work without being able to put dinner on the table.

When we prioritize principles over party and humanity over personal legacy, we accomplish far more as a nation. By leading with a shared faith in each other, we become America at its best: a beacon of hope, a source of comfort in crisis, a shield against those who threaten freedom.

Our nation’s recent political challenges remind us that our standing as the leader of the free world is not simply destiny. It is a deliberate choice that every generation must make and work toward. We cannot do it divided.

I do have hope that our country will rediscover its greatness. . . . . I grew up in what others have called the Greatest Generation. Together, we put an end to Nazi tyranny. Our nation confronted Jim Crow, split the atom, eliminated the anguish of polio, planted our flag on the moon and tore down the Berlin Wall. Rising above partisanship, we made historic gains in feeding the hungry and housing the homeless. To make a more perfect union, we swung open the doors of economic opportunity for women who were ready to rise to their fullest potential and leave shattered glass ceilings behind them.

We can find that unity again.

In 1951, when I was newly elected to the Kansas House of Representatives, a reporter asked me what I had on my agenda. I said, “Well, I’m going to sit back and watch for a few days, and then I’ll stand up for what I think is right.” In 1996, when I left public office for the final time, I announced the same plans, to sit back for a few days, then start standing up for what I thought was right.

After sharing these thoughts, I plan to once again return to my seat to sit back and watch. Though this time, I will count on tomorrow’s leaders to stand up for what is right for America.

I remain very afraid for the future and the possible end of American democracy given the current bankruptcy of the GOP.   It is NOT the party I once supported. 

Tuesday Morning Male Beauty


Sunday, December 05, 2021

More Sunday Male Beauty


The Republican Obsession With Manliness

Like so many other issues used to generate rage among the Republican Party base, a new effort is undeway to fan male resentment and feelings of inadequacy - many stemming from men's bad choices - by claiming masculinity is under attack.  Anything that criticizes toxic masculinity, the mistreatment of women, and anti-gay and anti-transgender bigotry is labeled an attack on males.   This theme works hand in glove with Republican efforts to fan white anxiety and fears of lost privilege and is aided and abetted by many evangelicals "leaders" who preach about the subservient role women should display towards men.  Yes, there are legitimate problems facing many white working class males in particular, but solutions - better jobs, funding for college education or trade schools, greatly expanded mental health care coverage under insurance programs, etc. - are things the GOP action works against as it continues reverse Robin Hood policies aimed at further eriching the already wealthy. A column in the New York Times looks at the efforts of the always despicable Josh Hawley to fan the flames of male resentment and panic.  Here are excerpts:

Senator Josh Hawley is worried about men. In a recent speech at the National Conservatism Conference, he blamed the left for their mental health problems, joblessness, obsession with video games and hours spent watching pornography. “The crisis of American men,” he said, “is a crisis for the American republic.”

The liberal reaction was flippant. A CNN analysis mocked the speech, contrasting the “decline of masculinity” with real issues like the pandemic and inflation. The ReidOut Blog on MSNBC’s website declared, “Josh Hawley’s crusade against video games and porn is hilariously empty.”

Mr. Hawley is not alone in sensing that masculinity is a popular cause; around the world, male politicians are tapping into social anxieties about its apparent decline, for their own ideological ends.

There can be a homophobic and fascistic component to such calls: China has also barred “sissy” men from appearing on TV; in Brazil, President Jair Bolsonaro has said that masks are “for fairies”; and Mr. Hawley, in his speech, fueled anti-transgender prejudice by alluding to a bogus “war on women’s sports.” Nothing justifies this hateful nonsense. But Mr. Hawley, for all his winking bigotry, is tapping into something real — a widespread, politically potent anxiety about young men that is already helping the right.

American politicians have long fanned popular flames of masculine panic to advance their own agendas, and Mr. Hawley is a scholar of this tradition. In 2008, two years after graduating from Yale Law School, he wrote a smart, compelling book about a historical figure who also worried about masculinity. In “Theodore Roosevelt: Preacher of Righteousness,” published by Yale University Press, Mr. Hawley described how Roosevelt sought to imbue men with the fortitude the country needed to drive big national projects like war and territorial expansion.

Conquest would allow American men to shed the temptations of the “slothful life” and become a “more manful race.” Mr. Hawley seeks to carry on this tradition.

He is right about some things. Deindustrialization has stripped many men of their ability to earn a decent wage, as well as of the pride they once took in contributing to prosperous communities. Boys are sometimes overdisciplined and overmedicated for not conforming to behavioral expectations in school. And while more women than men are diagnosed with anxiety or depression, men are more likely to commit suicide or die of drug overdoses.

None of these problems are caused by liberals. But liberalism hasn’t offered a positive message for men lately. . . . As Mr. Hawley puts it, men are being told by liberals that “they’re the problem.” Our side — the progressive side — has struggled to articulate what a “nontoxic” masculinity might look like, or where boys might look for models of how to become men.

This has set up an existential crisis for the left, threatening its ability to win elections. For years, young men have been flocking to the far right, finding its messages and disgruntled virtual communities on YouTube and Reddit. In 2016, Donald Trump won the male vote by 11 percentage points. And with his attacks on pornography and video games, Mr. Hawley could appeal to mothers, too, who know that, in excess, these aren’t signs of healthy social adjustment.

Like Roosevelt, Mr. Hawley knows how to exploit the cultural anxieties of ordinary people to advance his brand of politics. But he hasn’t offered solutions to this “masculinity crisis” because neither he nor his party has any.

Men and boys need good jobs, affordable access to team sports, an education system sensitive to their social and emotional development, public parks, mental health support, access to substance abuse treatment and paternity leave. All of this requires public funding, which is far more likely to come from the left than the right. To thrive, many men also need the freedom not to be “men” at all, but rather to become sissies, scrawny historians or even women, a cultural evolution Mr. Hawley and his conservative ilk adamantly oppose.

He, after all, has opposed just about every common public project recently proposed, from the bipartisan infrastructure bill to the Build Back Better Act to the Green New Deal.

Meanwhile, the left will need to find a better way to talk to men; half of the population is far too many people to abandon to the would-be strongmen of the far right.