Saturday, January 02, 2016

Saturday Morning Male Beauty

The GOP's Delusional Invocations of "American Exceptionalism"

One thing that drives me to distraction is the Republican Party's constant bloviating about "American Exceptionalism."  Yes, Democrats, including Barack Obama, succumb at times to citing American exceptionalism, but the frequency of use pales compared to that of Republicans.  Worse yet, the GOP invocations of American exceptionalism always seem to include a re-writing of history, refusal to learn from past catastrophes - e.g., the Iraq War - and a blindness to the ugliness in America's past.  Without being honest about the past and accurate history, America is doomed to repeat past mistakes and allow injustices to fester.  A column in Salon that looks at history from the Vietnam War forward underscores the GOP's delusions on "American exceptionalism."  Here are excerpts:

The Vietnam War ended 40 years ago, yet this brutal episode continues to haunt America and affect our foreign policy, our culture, and our national identity. . . . the catastrophic war left the idea of American exceptionalism in tatters as the conflict came to be seen by many citizens as unnecessary and immoral, undermining the basic American belief that the United States is the greatest force for good in the world.
In his wide-ranging book “American Reckoning: The Vietnam War and Our National Identity” (Viking), historian Christian Appy explores the complex history of the war, from the Cold War fear and idealism that led to the initial American involvement to the ruthless and seemingly endless and grotesque conflict that perplexed the military, devastated Vietnam, and fueled an antiwar movement at home. Appy also looks at the aftermath of the war, analyzing the amnesia and pumped up patriotism in its wake as well as the wariness of further military intervention. But, as Appy observes, historical memory faded and policy makers after 9/11 ignored the lessons of Vietnam, launching protracted and indecisive wars in the Middle East as an imperial presidency directed foreign affairs without the consent of the citizenry.
[T]he evidence I found indicated that roughly 80 percent of the men who served in Vietnam came from poor or working-class families. The draft system of the era was class-biased in ways that allowed men with greater economic means far more opportunity to avoid military service or to find forms of service (like the military reserves) that kept them out of Vietnam. And few men of privilege volunteered.
To put it most plainly, [American exceptionalism] it’s the belief that the United States is the greatest nation on earth, unrivaled not only it its wealth and power, but in the quality of its institutions and values, and the character of its people. That faith has been with us for centuries and has often had a religious underpinning—the idea that we are providentially destined for our unique mission in the world. When it reached its heyday during World War II and the early Cold War, American exceptionalism was the driving ideological force of our particular brand of imperialism. It was founded on the appealing idea that we are the greatest force for good in the world and therefore have the right and responsibility to assert “global leadership.”
[I]n many ways the political and cultural values and institutions that have shaped American exceptionalism (republicanism, various kinds of freedom, etc.) were constructed on the backs of dispossessed native peoples, enslaved Africans, and, over time, the domination of many foreign lands and people. Of course, the faithful have tended to view all such devastating evidence as insignificant or temporary blemishes along the road to ever greater freedom for all.
The Vietnam War, in my view, was the first experience that shattered that broad faith. . . . . in the face of war crimes like the My Lai massacre in which a company of U.S. soldiers slaughtered some 500 unarmed and unresisting civilians in 1968, many war supporters proposed that all nations do similarly horrible things in war. Well, that excuse is itself a rejection of a core ingredient of American exceptionalism—the idea that we put a higher price on life than other nations and cultures.
Perhaps it’s a tell-tale sign of a dying empire when leaders know that their exercise of military power is failing but they continue the killing nonetheless in a desperate effort to avoid defeat, to avoid humiliation, to avoid looking weak.
I have a chapter called “Paper Tigers” that is really about the significance of gender in prolonging and expanding a war that American leaders believed was failing but did not have the moral courage to stop. . . . . their primary concern was maintaining “credibility” and that really boiled down to preserving an image of national and personal toughness.
Not only is that, in my view, a kind of insanity, but it didn’t work. The longer we stayed in Vietnam the more our international credibility was shredded. It didn’t even work for LBJ in personal political terms—the war led him to drop out of the presidential campaign of 1968. As for Nixon, his illegal efforts to silence antiwar criticism (and thus preserve his credibility) were the first crimes of Watergate that ultimately forced him to resign.
Forced relocation was designed to deprive the Viet Cong of civilian support in the countryside and it ultimately displaced 5 to 10 million people. Their ancestral villages were then burned down or bulldozed and proclaimed “free fire zones” where the U.S. claimed the right to fire at anything that moved in the area.
Far from “winning hearts and minds,” policies like these simply served to drive more and more Vietnamese to an anti-government, anti-U.S. position.
Although Iraq, Afghanistan and other nations of the Greater Middle East in which we engage in seemingly endless war are all vastly different from Vietnam (and each other) there are certainly commonalities in the way the U.S. has behaved in all of those places. Once again our troops have been sent to war under false pretexts, in faraway countries in which they are widely perceived as hostile invaders or occupiers, to prop up local regimes that lack the broad support of their own people, and to wage brutal counter-insurgency against an elusive and difficult-to-identify enemy (while also being told somehow to win the hearts and minds of the people). Moreover, our presidents have prolonged these wars, as in Vietnam, long after the American public has turned against them, and once again we have failed to achieve our stated objectives.
[F]inally dispense with American exceptionalism. I don’t think the historical record justifies the faith, it alienates other people and nations (for obvious reasons), and it contributes to public acquiescence to the tiny few who make foreign policy in our name and are all to ready and willing to assure us that they can be trusted to use our “indispensable” power as a force for good in the world.
[T]hose [presidential candidate] comments strike me as delusional and reflexive invocations of American exceptionalism based on the threadbare idea that we are a force for stability and peace in the world no matter how glaringly the facts contradict the claim. They remind me of the remark Vice President George H.W. Bush made in 1988 shortly after the U.S. Navy shot down an Iranian civilian airliner over the Persian Gulf killing all 290 passengers. Running for president at the time, Bush said: “I will never apologize for the United States of America. Ever. I don’t care what the facts are.”
Just as they don't want to face the reality that their religious beliefs are untrue, much of the GOP base refuses to face the fact that "American exceptionalism" is a myth that is dangerous.

Islamic Extremist Use Trump as Recruiting Tool

Many have accused Donald Trump of aiding the enemy - i.e, ISIS and other extremist groups - through his vitriolic denunciations of Muslims and advocacy for barring Muslims from America.  Trump's demagoguery plays well with the racist, knuckle draggers of the GOP base, but plays right into ISIS and other groups' desire to depict America and the West at war against Islam and by extension, all Muslims. Not that Trump, the carnival barker playing to America's own extremists seems to give a damn.  A piece in the New York Times looks at how Trump's rhetoric is being used against America.  Here are highlights:

Al Qaeda’s branch in Somalia released a recruitment video on Friday that criticized racism and anti-Muslim sentiment in the United States and contained footage of the Republican presidential candidate Donald J. Trump announcing his proposal to bar Muslims from entering the country.

The video, released by the militant group Shabab, appeared to be the first time that Mr. Trump was featured in jihadist recruitment material. During a Democratic presidential debate last month, Hillary Clinton said that Mr. Trump had been used in a recruitment video for the Islamic State, a claim that was later debunked.

Al Qaeda and the Islamic State are rival jihadist groups that compete for recruits and money among radicalized Muslims.  Representatives for the Trump campaign did not respond to requests for comment on Friday.

The video was authenticated by the SITE Intelligence Group, which studies jihadist propaganda, and it appeared to be aimed at the African-American community.

In addition to footage of Mr. Trump, the video, which is 51 minutes long, included excerpts from speeches by Malcolm X and unnamed white supremacists, as well as footage of white police officers, African-Americans protesting police brutality and African-American men in prison. Some appeared to be performing Islamic prayers.

Using footage of Anwar al-Awlaki, an American member of a Qaeda affiliate who was killed in an American drone attack in 2011, the video also said the United States was gripped by a “malignant hatred” of Islam. It warned American Muslims that “there are ominous clouds gathering in your horizon.”

“The West will eventually turn against its Muslim citizens,” he said, jabbing his finger toward the camera. Only two choices remained for Muslims in the United States, he said.

“You either leave or you fight,” he said. “You leave and live among Muslims, or you stay behind and follow the example of Nidal Hasan and others who fulfilled their duty of fighting for Allah’s cause.”

What is frightening is that far too many Americans seem only too happy to play right into ISIS's hands, especially GOP presidential candidates who are only too eager to prostitute themselves to the ugliest elements of the GOP base.

Friday, January 01, 2016

New Year's Male Beauty

Ft. Lauderdale - Day Two and Three

Between work matters - I have spent a number of hours each day dealing with office e-mails and client matters - and seeing friends and trying to enjoy the trip, I simply never got around to blogging yesterday.  Overall, the trip has been great and we are very happy with the Coral Reef Guesthouse where we are staying.  We have met a number of really nice couples and guys from various parts of the country and the facility is immaculately kept and the staff very friendly and helpful.  We will definitely stay here again.

Wednesday, we spent time by the pool, met friends from Virginia Beach/Norfolk for lunch and then we went to the home of friends and clients of the husband's salon where he did their hair as I sat by the pool at their gorgeous home in Lighthouse Point, just north of Ft. Lauderdale. That evening we went to the Lauderdale Yacht Club (see the image above of the pool complex) for dinner.  We ended the night hitting clubs in Wilton Manor, finishing the night at Hunters where there was great dance music.  

Yesterday, after dealing with office issues until nearly noon, we hit Sebastian Beach at the ocean front for several hours.  We attended a New Year's Eve party in Wilton Manor at the home of a friend from Virginia Beach and saw many friends down from Virginia and finished the night/early hours of the morning at the guesthouse having cocktails with other guests at the pool and hot tub.  As I have been blogging, the husband in fact has been sleeping in. :)

America’s Self-Destructive Whites

Much of the base of the Republican Party consists of working class whites, many with no college education.  I suspect that many have never traveled overseas and - except perhaps in the military, if then - and have a limited view of the world.  Especially if they are far right evangelicals who statistically have the lowest education levels of those calling themselves Christians.  Rather than attempt to adapt and accept a changing world and society, they rage and seek to impose their beliefs on all.  Anything is more acceptable than having to think and re-evaluate long held beliefs and prejudices.  In the long term, the behavior is also self-destructive.  A column in the Washington Post looks at the phenomenon.  Here are excerpts:
Why is Middle America killing itself? The fact itself is probably the most important social science finding in years. It is already reshaping American politics. The Post’s Jeff Guo notes that the people who make up this cohort are “largely responsible for Donald Trump’s lead in the race for the Republican nomination for president.” The key question is why, and exploring it provides answers that suggest that the rage dominating U.S. politics will only get worse.

For decades, people in rich countries have lived longer. But in a well-known paper, economists Angus Deaton and Anne Case found that over the past 15 years, one group — middle-age whites in the United States — constitutes an alarming trend. They are dying in increasing numbers. And things look much worse for those with just a high school diploma or less. There are concerns about the calculations, but even a leading critic of the paper has acknowledged that, however measured, “the change compared to other countries and groups is huge.” 

The only comparable spike in deaths in an industrialized country took place among Russian males after the collapse of the Soviet Union, when rates of alcoholism skyrocketed. 

A conventional explanation for this middle-class stress and anxiety is that globalization and technological change have placed increasing pressures on the average worker in industrialized nations. But the trend is absent in any other Western country — it’s an exclusively American phenomenon.  

Deaton speculated to me that perhaps Europe’s more generous welfare state might ease some of the fears associated with the rapid change. Certainly he believes that in the United States, doctors and drug companies are far too eager to deal with physical and psychological pain by prescribing drugs, including powerful and addictive opioids. The introduction of drugs such as Oxycontin, a heroin-like prescription painkiller, coincides with the rise in deaths.

While mortality rates for middle-age whites have stayed flat or risen, the rates for Hispanics and blacks have continued to decline significantly. These groups live in the same country and face greater economic pressures than whites. Why are they not in similar despair? 

The answer might lie in expectations. . . . . other groups might not expect that their income, standard of living and social status are destined to steadily improve. They don’t have the same confidence that if they work hard, they will surely get ahead.

The Hispanic and immigrant experiences in the United States are different, of course. But again, few in these groups have believed that their place in society is assured. Minorities, by definition, are on the margins. They do not assume that the system is set up for them. They try hard and hope to succeed, but they do not expect it as the norm. 

The United States is going through a great power shift. Working-class whites don’t think of themselves as an elite group. But, in a sense, they have been, certainly compared with blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans and most immigrants. They were central to America’s economy, its society, indeed its very identity. They are not anymore. 
Donald Trump has promised that he will change this and make them win again. But he can’t. No one can. And deep down, they know it. 

Some may think that I am unsympathetic, but having gone through the coming out process, been fired from my job for being gay, forced into bankruptcy, and having had to work hard and struggle to rebuild, I do know that giving up hope and/or merely lashing out at others who are different is not the answer - no matter whatever sound bites Donald Trump may throw to you. 

Ben Carson Aides Resign Over Conflict with Closeted Adviser

As noted in a prior post, the already troubled Ben Carson campaign is being wracked by rumors about Carson friend and non-titled adviser Armstrong Williams who has faced male-on-male sexual harassment allegations.  Now, campaign manager Barry Bennett and communications director Doug Watts have resigned due to apparent conflict with Williams, a long time Carson friend and confident.  Talking Points Memo looks at the development and one can only wonder when Carson opponents try to fan the flames over Williams.  Here are highlights:

Two top aides to Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson resigned from the campaign and predicted a wave of departures to come Thursday, casting the troubled campaign into uncertainty with just a month until the Iowa caucuses.

Campaign manager Barry Bennett and communications director Doug Watts resigned over conflict with Armstrong Williams, a Carson adviser the campaign has said has no official role, according to the Des Moines Register.

The Register later reported Deputy Campaign Manager Lisa Coen had also left the campaign.
Days before Christmas, Armstrong and Williams invited The Washington Post and Associated Press for a sit-down at the candidate's Maryland home about upcoming staffing changes to the campaign – without Bennett's knowledge, the Post reported.

"I spent the holidays hearing every day that I had lost my job,” Bennett told the Post in an interview Thursday. “My relationship with Carson was always good and friendly but being campaign manager in that kind of situation, where outside advisers are in essence driving the campaign and setting up interviews and raising questions about everything, it’s not the right atmosphere.”

Bennett said he thought airing the campaign's dirty laundry to the press was a "stupid move," one that Williams pushed for.

On Thursday, Williams told the Post he heard the news of Bennett and Watts' departures on Twitter.
"There’s enough pain today, enough feelings that have been damaged in some ways," Williams said. "I’m already being blamed, as I knew I would be, but I would never criticize Barry and Doug."

The Post's Robert Costa reported the campaign was in "chaos" over the news.

I have long viewed Carson as a whack job and we can only hope that this is the beginning of the end of his campaign.

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year to one and all.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Wednesday Morning Male Beauty

Donald Trump and Christofascists - Kindred Narcissists

As regular readers know full well, I have a very low opinion of evangelical Christians, especially those I refer to as Christofascists.  They are defined by the selfishness, false piety and hatred of anyone and everyone who does not subscribe to their toxic version of Christianity or who tries to limit their ability to abuse and discriminate against others that they deem as "sinners" or as not being "real Americans."  These folks are a walking advertisement as to why one should leave Christianity.  Some are surprised that a significant portion of the Christofascists in the Republican Party base are flocking to Donald Trump's banner.  A piece in The Raw Story makes the case why Trump and the Christofascists are made for each other and tied to one another by a common trait: narcissism.  Here are highlights:

One of the questions vexing the mediocre punditry of American discourse is how Donald Trump—a former star of the tabloids with a track record of scandal and little history of religious affiliation—is polling so well with evangelical Christians. 

But Trump and America’s religious right are not as different as one would think. If any corner of American Christianity encourages narcissism, it’s conservative evangelical Christianity.

One of the oddest traits of many deeply religious people is their self-professed humility even as they claim to understand the plan of the creator of the universe as well as their own special role in its development. The late Christopher Hitchens perfectly summarized the brand of arrogance that wears the mask of modesty: “Don’t mind me—I’m only on an errand for God.”

Despite the attempt religious believers often make to monopolize morality, it turns out that teaching children they are the center of the universe is not healthy. large study recently published in Current Biology, found that the more religious the child, the less likely they are to behave altruistically with peers. In fact, religion in children correlates strongly with selfishness and mean-spiritedness.

[T]he Christian right in America has a long history of encouraging narcissistic, intolerant ideology.

Trump, meanwhile, is the rock bottom of Republican decline from a political party with a coherent policy agenda to a loosely connected network of nativists and extremists. The party’s loss of credibility is the predictable outcome of its transformation into a vehicle for the self-promotion and theocratic advocacy of white evangelical Christians. In order to appeal to evangelical voters, candidates like Carson and Cruz have to project narcissism and selfishness. They do it very well, but Donald Trump is the demagogic master of it.

Having perfected his personality through years of reality television performance, Trump is able to successfully sway evangelicals to his side, despite his lack of Christian credentials, because narcissists take comfort in each other. His meanspirited attacks on minorities, disabled reporters and women who disagree with him do not subtract his support: quite the opposite. It actually makes him more appealing to those who, like the children in the study, believe they are special and that those who are different are inferior.

Evangelical Christians believe they are a persecuted minority because anything less than total ownership is unsatisfactory. God blesses America, and God has selected them to carry out his will. “Making America great again” will require the execution of God’s plan through the exclusion of those who do not share the religious vision of America as a white Christian paradise.

Barry Goldwater telegraphed the entire decline of the Republican Party in the 1980s when Ronald Reagan first began welcoming evangelicals into the room. The senator warned that, “If and when these preachers get control of the Republican Party, and they’re sure trying to do so, it’s going to be a terrible damn problem.  Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can’t and won’t compromise. I know. I’ve tried to deal with them.”

Arthur Miller once remarked that Christian conservatives don’t want a president. Instead, they “ache for an Ayatollah.” Right now, they have Trump.

America's Misplaced War on Marijuana

As noted in other posts, a majority of Americans believe that the nation's marijuana laws need to be changed.  As they exist currently, Virginia's marijuana laws produce thousands of citizens each year permanently marked by a criminal record - even for possessing small amounts of the substance.  All of this despite the fact that no research exists that has demonstrated that marijuana use has any where near the health issues of tobacco - which can still be legally purchased - which costs the nation billions of dollars in otherwise avoidable health care costs and lives ended prematurely.  Talk about having your priorities backwards.  A column in the Washington Post looks at these misplaced priorities.  Here are highlights:

In January [1964], the surgeon general announced that scientists had found conclusive evidence linking smoking to cancer and thus launched our highly successful 50-year public- health fight against tobacco. In August, the North Vietnamese fired on a U.S. naval ship in the Gulf of Tonkin, which led to the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution and the public phase of the Vietnam War. Alongside an accelerating deployment of conventional troops would come their widespread use of marijuana and heroin.

By 1971, cigarette ads had been banned from radio and television, the surgeon general had called for regulation of tobacco, and cigarette smoking had begun its long decline. T he impact of drug use among troops and returning veterans provoked President Richard M. Nixon to declare a war on drugs.  This was followed, of course, by the 1973 passage of the Rockefeller Drug Laws in New York. These set the model for criminalization and increasing penalties for the country as a whole, especially regarding drugs.

In the contrast between what has happened since 1964 with tobacco, on the one hand, and marijuana, cocaine, heroin and other banned substances, on the other, we have an instructive lesson in the comparative effects of choosing a public-health or a criminalization paradigm for dealing with addictive substances.

The approach to tobacco has worked. Between 1964 and 2014, smoking rates declined by half; . . . . The progress against smoking has been steady and impressive. It’s an altogether different tale with banned substances. While levels of illegal drug use have risen and fallen since 1971, current levels are equivalent to those we had in the mid-1970s. 

There is an even starker contrast in how perceptions of the risks of smoking and of illegal drugs have changed. In 1975, 51.3 percent of 12th-graders thought that smoking one or more packs of cigarettes a day posed great risk; by 1991 that number was 69.4 percent, by 2014 it was 78 percent. With illegal drugs, arrows move the opposite direction or stay essentially flat.

In other words, for all the money spent and lives ruined through violence and criminalization, we have made zero headway against illegal drugs.

So what did we do about smoking? Tobacco control has focused on prevention and cessation.
Beginning in 1964, public- health campaigns worked toward the “denormalization” of smoking, in the words of the 2014 Report of the Surgeon General

What we have done with marijuana and the other illegal drugs is, of course, invest heavily in criminal justice.

According to a 2011 Justice Department report, addressing illegal drugs cost the nation $193 billion in 2007.  . . . . this criminalization means a massive overload on the judicial system.

Rather than using the FBI to bust up fancy tunnel networks, we should legalize marijuana and decriminalize other drugs, and then tax and sue drug producers to generate revenue to support public health campaigns against their products, agencies to regulate them and treatment for those who suffer from addiction. Legalizing and decriminalizing drugs doesn’t mean giving up on the fight against them, and we have the lesson about what works right in front of our eyes.

Add to the ass backward approach taken on marijuana the unequal arrest rates for young black males and what we have is a disaster.  Conservatives are anti-drug yet whine and bitch about blacks not working when the failed war on drugs has made many nearly unemployable.  The cynic in me at times wonders if this hasn't worked more to hold back blacks than the foul Jim Crow laws.  The drug laws need to change now.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Tuesday Male Beauty

Ft. Lauderdale - Day One

It has been a super long day today.  The husband and I were up at 2:30AM to get ready for our 5:15AM flight to Ft. Lauderdale Florida, via Charlotte on American Airlines.  As seems to be the norm, American Airlines was a disappointment, but we eventually got here albeit late.  We are staying at the Coral Reef Guesthouse (the pool is shown above) and will be seeing numerous friends who have second homes down here.  The husband's brother is staying at the house and watching the dogs.  We lazed by the pool when I wasn't dealing with client phone calls and e-mails - I NEVER really escape - and plan on a low key dinner before visiting some clubs in Wilton Manor later this evening.  Normal posting will resume tomorrow.  Dinner tomorrow evening at the Lauderdale Yacht Club compliments of our reciprocal privileges through the Hampton Yacht Club.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Monday Morning Male Beauty

GALLUP: 64 Million Religious “Nones” In America

click image to enlarge
If one believes that a decline in religion in America is a good thing as I do, a new Gallup survey contains good news: those identifying as Christian is at a new low and the numbers of those claiming no religious affiliation is at a new high and translates to some 64 million Americans.  Is the GOP noting any of this?  Of course not!  The GOP continues to focus on prostituting itself to the most extreme and ugly elements of the Christofascists.  Here are highlights from some of the findings:

[A] review of over 174,000 interviews conducted in 2015 shows that three-quarters of American adults identify with a Christian religion, little changed from 2014, but down from 80% eight years ago. About 5% of Americans identify with a non-Christian religion, while 20% have no formal religious identification, which is up five percentage points since 2008.

The general trends in the data over this eight-year period are clear: As the percentage of Americans identifying with a Christian religion has decreased, the percentage with no formal religious identification has increased. The small percentage of Americans who identify with a non-Christian religion has been essentially constant over this time period.

The percentage of Christians is highest among older Americans and decreases with each progressively younger age group. This trend reflects the high number of "nones" -- those without a formal religious identity -- in the younger generations, as well as a higher proportion of non-Christians among them.

One key to the future of Christian representation in the U.S. population will be shifts in the religious identification of today's youngest cohorts. Traditionally, Americans have become more likely to identify with a religion as they age through their 30s and 40s and get married and have children. If this pattern does not occur in the same way it has in the past, the percentage of Christians nationwide will likely continue to shrink.

Of the Millennials that I know who now have children, few have returned to identifying with any religious affiliation.  

The GOP Seeks to Repeat the Worst of Bush/Cheney

Much of the Republican Party base is adverse to accepting objective reality (especially the Christofascist element of the base), but the problem extends all the way to the top of the party leadership and the 2016 clown car occupants.  On economic policy, all of the presidential contenders seek to reinstate all of the policies of Bush/Cheney that failed miserably and fueled both growing wealth disparities and helped to the Great Recession.  A column in the New York Times looks at this frightening pattern.  Here are highlights:

2015 was, of course, the year of Donald Trump, whose rise has inspired horror among establishment Republicans and, let’s face it, glee — call it Trumpenfreude — among many Democrats. But Trumpism has in one way worked to the G.O.P. establishment’s advantage: it has distracted pundits and the press from the hard right turn even conventional Republican candidates have taken, a turn whose radicalism would have seemed implausible not long ago.
After all, you might have expected the debacle of George W. Bush’s presidency — a debacle not just for the nation, but for the Republican Party, which saw Democrats both take the White House and achieve some major parts of their agenda — to inspire some reconsideration of W-type policies. What we’ve seen instead is a doubling down, a determination to take whatever didn’t work from 2001 to 2008 and do it again, in a more extreme form.

Start with the example that’s easiest to quantify, tax cuts.   Big tax cuts tilted toward the wealthy were the Bush administration’s signature domestic policy. They were sold at the time as fiscally responsible, a matter of giving back part of the budget surplus America was running when W took office. . . . . it’s harder than ever to claim that tax cuts are the key to prosperity.

You might think, then, that Bush-style tax cuts would be out of favor. In fact, however, establishment candidates like Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush are proposing much bigger tax cuts than W ever did. And independent analysis of Jeb’s proposal shows that it’s even more tilted toward the wealthy than anything his brother did.

What about other economic policies? The Bush administration’s determination to dismantle any restraints on banks — at one staged event, a top official used a chain saw on stacks of regulations — looks remarkably bad in retrospect. But conservatives have bought into the thoroughly debunked narrative that government somehow caused the Great Recession, and all of the Republican candidates have declared their determination to repeal Dodd-Frank, the fairly modest set of regulations imposed after the financial crisis.

The only real move away from W-era economic ideology has been on monetary policy, and it has been a move toward right-wing fantasyland.  . . . . these days hostility toward the Fed’s efforts to help the economy is G.O.P. orthodoxy, even though the right’s warnings about imminent inflation have been wrong again and again.

Last but not least, there’s foreign policy. You might have imagined that the story of the Iraq war, where we were not, in fact, welcomed as liberators, where a vast expenditure of blood and treasure left the Middle East less stable than before, would inspire some caution about military force as the policy of first resort. Yet swagger-and-bomb posturing is more or less universal among the leading candidates. 

The point is that while the mainstream contenders may have better manners than Mr. Trump or the widely loathed Mr. Cruz, when you get to substance it becomes clear that all of them are frighteningly radical, and that none of them seem to have learned anything from past disasters.

The truth is that there are no moderates in the Republican primary, and being reasonable appears to be a disqualifying characteristic for anyone seeking the party’s nod.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Sunday Morning Male Beauty

The Great Republican Revolt

A lengthy piece in The Atlantic looks at the war raging within the Republican Party.  Part of the warfare stems from the shortsighted  welcoming of the Christofascists into the GOP.  But another major cause of the battle for the party's soul is the fact that the so-called GOP establishment has based its policies on benefiting Wall Street and the wealthy to the detriment of working class Americans.  Yes, appeals to racism, religious extremism, and anti-immigrant hatred for a long time have duped the GOP base to vote against its own financial and economic best interests. Now, those tools of distracting the base may be losing their power.  The result is that the GOP establishment's preferred candidates - Jeb Bush being the starkest example - are failing even as the Trump insurgency goes on undiminished.  The article ends with options confronting the GOP elite.  Here are article excerpts:
The angriest and most pessimistic people in America are the people we used to call Middle Americans. Middle-class and middle-aged; not rich and not poor; people who are irked when asked to press 1 for English, and who wonder how white male became an accusation rather than a description.

You can measure their pessimism in polls that ask about their expectations for their lives—and for those of their children. On both counts, whites without a college degree express the bleakest view. You can see the effects of their despair in the new statistics describing horrifying rates of suicide and substance-abuse fatality among this same group, in middle age.

White Middle Americans express heavy mistrust of every institution in American society: not only government, but corporations, unions, even the political party they typically vote for—the Republican Party of Romney, Ryan, and McConnell, which they despise as a sad crew of weaklings and sellouts. They are pissed off. And when Donald Trump came along, they were the people who told the pollsters, “That’s my guy.”

They often don’t think in ideological terms at all. But they do strongly feel that life in this country used to be better for people like them—and they want that older country back. . . . . they lean Republican because they fear the Democrats want to take from them and redistribute to Americans who are newer, poorer, and in their view less deserving—to “spread the wealth around,” in candidate Barack Obama’s words to “Joe the Plumber” back in 2008. Yet they have come to fear more and more strongly that their party does not have their best interests at heart.

A majority of Republicans worry that corporations and the wealthy exert too much power. Their party leaders work to ensure that these same groups can exert even more. Mainstream Republicans were quite at ease with tax increases on households earning more than $250,000 in the aftermath of the Great Recession and the subsequent stimulus. Their congressional representatives had the opposite priorities. 

Their rebellion against the power of organized money has upended American politics in ways that may reverberate for a long time. To understand what may come next, we must first review the recent past.

Political identity has become so central because it has come to overlap with so many other aspects of identity: race, religion, lifestyle. In 1960, I wouldn’t have learned much about your politics if you told me that you hunted. Today, that hobby strongly suggests Republican loyalty. Unmarried? In 1960, that indicated little. Today, it predicts that you’re a Democrat, especially if you’re also a woman.

Meanwhile, the dividing line that used to be the most crucial of them all—class—has increasingly become a division within the parties, not between them. Since 1984, nearly every Democratic presidential-primary race has ended as a contest between a “wine track” candidate who appealed to professionals  . . . . and a “beer track” candidate who mobilized the remains of the old industrial working class . . . . . The Republicans have their equivalent in the battles between “Wall Street” and “Main Street” candidates. Until this decade, however, both parties—and especially the historically more cohesive Republicans—managed to keep sufficient class peace to preserve party unity.

Not anymore, at least not for the Republicans.   The Great Recession ended in the summer of 2009. Since then, the U.S. economy has been growing, but most incomes have not grown comparably. In 2014, real median household income remained almost $4,000 below the pre-recession level, and well below the level in 1999. The country has recovered from the worst economic disaster since the Great Depression. Most of its people have not.

It was these pessimistic Republicans who powered the Tea Party movement of 2009 and 2010. They were not, as a rule, libertarians looking for an ultraminimal government. The closest study we have of the beliefs of Tea Party supporters, led by Theda Skocpol, a Harvard political scientist, found that “Tea Partiers judge entitlement programs not in terms of abstract free-market orthodoxy, but according to the perceived deservingness of recipients. The distinction between ‘workers’ and ‘people who don’t work’ is fundamental to Tea Party ideology.”

Yet even as the Republican Main Street protested Obamacare, it rejected the hardening ideological orthodoxy of Republican donors and elected officials. A substantial minority of Republicans—almost 30 percent—said they would welcome “heavy” taxes on the wealthy, according to Gallup.

As a class, big Republican donors could not see any of this, or would not. So neither did the politicians who depend upon them. Against all evidence, both groups interpreted the Tea Party as a mass movement in favor of the agenda of the Wall Street Journal editorial page. One of the more dangerous pleasures of great wealth is that you never have to hear anyone tell you that you are completely wrong.

The rank and file did not like it. But they could not stop it. The base kept elevating “not Romneys” into first place, and each rapidly failed or fizzled; Romney, supported by a cumulative total of $139 million in primary funds by March 2012, trundled on.

Romney ultimately lost the presidential election, of course, to the surprise and dismay of a party elite confident of victory until the very end. One might have expected this shock to force a rethink. The Republicans had now lost four out of the past six presidential elections. . . . . And yet, within hours of Romney’s defeat, Republican donors, talkers, and officials converged on the maximally self-exculpating explanation. The problem had not been the plan to phase out Medicare for people younger than 55. Or the lack of ideas about how to raise wages. Or the commitment to ending health-insurance coverage for millions of working-age Americans. Or the anthems to wealth creation and entrepreneurship in a country increasingly skeptical of both.

Instead of holding on to their base and adding Hispanics, Republicans alienated their base in return for no gains at all. By mid-2015, a majority of self-identified Republicans disapproved of their party’s congressional leadership—an intensity of disapproval never seen by the Republican majority of the 1990s nor by Democrats during their time in the majority after the 2006 midterm elections.

In fact, disapproval had flared into an outright revolt of the Republican base in the summer of 2014.  

[W]ithin five weeks of his formal declaration of candidacy on June 15, Bush’s campaign had been brutally rejected by the GOP rank and file.   From Jupiter Island, Florida, to Greenwich, Connecticut; from Dallas’s Highland Park to Sea Island, Georgia; from Fifth Avenue in Manhattan to California’s Newport Beach, the baffled question resounded: What went wrong?

The mutiny of the 2016 election cycle has been different. . . . . What was new and astonishing was the Trump boom.

Half of Trump’s supporters within the GOP had stopped their education at or before high-school graduation, according to the polling firm YouGov. Only 19 percent had a college or postcollege degree. Thirty-eight percent earned less than $50,000. Only 11 percent earned more than $100,000.

Trump Republicans were not ideologically militant. Just 13 percent said they were very conservative; 19 percent described themselves as moderate. Nor were they highly religious by Republican standards.

What set them apart from other Republicans was their economic insecurity and the intensity of their economic nationalism. Sixty-three percent of Trump supporters wished to end birthright citizenship for the children of illegal immigrants born on U.S. soil—a dozen points higher than the norm for all Republicans. 

The GOP donor elite planned a dynastic restoration in 2016. Instead, it triggered an internal class war.