Saturday, August 17, 2019

More Saturday Male Beauty

Some White Evangelicals are Difficult to Recognize as Christians

Despite its many problems and failings, Catholicism continues to push for a social gospel that attempts to mitigate the sufferings of the poor, the homeless and refugees. Such cannot be said for many of today's white evangelicals in the United States who feign piety, express shock at Donald Trump's foul language, yet totally betray the social message demanded by the Gospels by virtue of the policies they support.  In a column in the Washington Post, former Republican Michael Gerson who was raised as an evangelical lets loose on the modern day Pharisees who comprise perhaps the vast majority of white evangelicals. I often say that one cannot be a decent moral person and be a member.supporter of today's Republican Party.  Gerson more or less states that one cannot be a Trump supporter and be a Christian.  Here are column excerpts:

After a recent speech by President Trump, Hardesty — who is a conservative, pro-Trump Democrat — received phone calls from Christians complaining of the president’s use of the term “goddamn.” In a letter to Trump, Hardesty pronounced himself “appalled by the fact that you chose to use the Lord’s name in vain on two separate occasions.”
This is hardly a national groundswell for decorum. But I don’t want to be dismissive of people revolted by the steaming, stinking cesspool of Trump’s public rhetoric. The problem is one of proportion.
Hardesty admitted that evangelicals Christians had been willing to overlook many of the president’s character flaws, but he ventured that on the matter of blasphemy, Trump’s “evangelical base might be far less forgiving.”
Consider this statement in the light of some recent developments:
*The Trump administration seems intent on sending to Congress a more than $4 billion package of budget cuts focused on diplomacy and foreign-assistance spending. These proposed reductions would likely affect efforts to fight the spread of Ebola, programs to encourage food security and nutrition across Africa, aid to countries taking the brunt of the refugee crisis, and democracy support in Venezuela, Ukraine and Tibet.
*[Trump] The president continues to vilify refugees as national security threats without the slightest bit of evidence. This year, the Trump administration capped the number of refugees who can resettle in the United States at 30,000 . . . . And the administration is now considering cutting that number to nearly zero next year.
*Along the southern border, the Trump administration has tightened the rules on asylum, making it more difficult for applicants to seek protection when family members face threats, and barring migrants seeking asylum if they passed through a third country while making their trek. The administration’s policy of family separation, its abusive treatment of migrants, its policy confusion and its general incompetence have contributed to a humanitarian crisis on both sides of the border.
There is an obvious response to Hardesty and other offended evangelical Christians.
Massive budget cuts to hunger-relief programs in Africa, refusing to take in desperate Syrian refugees and separating crying children from their parents at the border are tolerable, but using the Lord’s name in vain is a bridge too far? Pathological lying, spreading conspiracy theories, misogyny, making racist comments and dehumanizing others are permissible, but swearing somehow crosses the line?
This kind of Pharisaical preference for rules over humans reveals a large gap of spiritual education. In a poll conducted last year by the Pew Research Center, only 25 percent of white evangelical Christians said the United States has a responsibility to accept refugees, while 65 percent of those not affiliated with a religion affirmed that duty. . . . this reveals cruelty, corruption and hypocrisy at the heart of the Christian faith.
The problem does not lie in Christianity but in the moral formation of Christians. Are they getting their view of refugees from Christian sources? Or are they taking their view from Fox News, talk radio and Trump? I suspect the latter. And the worship of political idols is ultimately a spiritual problem — a different kind of blasphemy.
Many white evangelical Christians hold a faith that appeals to the comfortable rather than siding with the afflicted. They have allied themselves with bigots and nativists, risking the reputation of the gospel itself. And, in some very public ways, they are difficult to recognize as Christians at all.
Unfortunately, nothing seems likely to change evangelicals.  Thus, all one can do is hope that the flight from religion accelerates and that in time evangelicals shrink as a percentage of the population and that their toxic influence wanes. When that day comes, they best hope that they don't receive the kind of treatment that have inflicted on others.

Trump and the Seemingly Faltering Economy

Donald Trump likes to claim he is responsible for the United States' economy and boasts about the stock market. The truth is that he merely inherited a growing economy from the Obama administration and that to date, his regime has done little to provide a basis for claiming responsibility for the economy which has grown, yet since much of the benefit go to the top 1% percent of taxpayers (especially due to the Trump/GOP tax break give away).  Now, with signs that the economy may be on the verge of faltering, Trump economic and trade policies may be a driving force towards a slow down and recession in 2020 - a recession (f not depression) already slamming American farmers thanks to Der Trumpenführer's tariffs and trade wars.  A column in the New York Times suggests that Trump's policies are a flop and, worse yet, his regime has no plan on how to deal with an economic slow down other than to blame "fake news" and the Federal Reserve.  Here are highlights:

Last year, after an earlier stock market swoon brought on by headlines about the U.S.-China trade conflict, I laid out three rules for thinking about such events. First, the stock market is not the economy. Second, the stock market is not the economy. Third, the stock market is not the economy.
But maybe I should add a fourth rule: The bond market sorta kinda is the economy.
An old economists’ joke says that the stock market predicted nine of the last five recessions. Well, an “inverted yield curve” — when interest rates on short-term bonds are higher than on long-term bonds — predicted six of the last six recessions. And a plunge in long-term yields, which are now less than half what they were last fall, has inverted the yield curve once again, with the short-versus-long spread down to roughly where it was in early 2007, on the eve of a disastrous financial crisis and the worst recession since the 1930s.
[T]he bond market is telling us that the smart money has become very gloomy about the economy’s prospects. Why? The Federal Reserve basically controls short-term rates, but not long-term rates; low long-term yields mean that investors expect a weak economy, which will force the Fed into repeated rate cuts.
So what accounts for this wave of gloom? Much though not all of it is a vote of no confidence in Donald Trump’s economic policies.
[L]ast year, after a couple of quarters of good economic news, Trump officials were boasting that the 2017 tax cut had laid the foundation for many years of high economic growth. Since then, however, the data have pretty much confirmed what critics had been saying all along. Yes, the tax cut gave the economy a boost — a “sugar high.” Running trillion-dollar deficits will do that. But the boost was temporary. In particular, the promised boom in business investment never materialized.
At the same time, it has become increasingly clear that Trump’s belligerence about foreign trade isn’t a pose; it reflects real conviction. Protectionism seems to be up there with racism as part of the essential Trump. And the realization that he really is a Tariff Man is having a serious dampening effect on business spending, partly because nobody knows just how far he’ll go. [T]hink of the dilemma facing many U.S. manufacturers. Some of them rely heavily on imported parts; they’re not going to invest in the face of actual or threatened tariffs on those imports. Others could potentially compete with imported goods if assured that those imports would face heavy tariffs; but they don’t know whether those tariffs are actually coming, or will endure. So everyone is sitting on piles of cash, waiting to see what an erratic president will do. Of course, Trump isn’t the only problem here. Other countries have their own troubles — a European recession and a Chinese slowdown look quite likely — and some of these troubles are spilling back to the United States. But even if Trump and company aren’t the source of all of our economic difficulties, you still want some assurance that they’ll deal effectively with problems as they arise. . . . reportedly, is that there is no policy discussion at all, which isn’t surprising when you bear in mind the fact that basically everyone who knows anything about economics left the Trump administration months or years ago.
[T]the administration’s only plan if things go wrong seems to be to blame the Fed, whose chairman was selected by … Donald Trump. To be fair, it’s now clear that the Fed was wrong to raise short-term rates last year.
But it’s important to realize that the Fed’s mistake was, essentially, that it placed too much faith in Trumpist economic policies. . . . the Trump boom wasn’t supposed to be so fragile that a small rise in rates would ruin it.
I might add that blaming the Fed looks to me like a dubious political strategy. How many voters even know what the Fed is or what it does?
Investors were clearly far too optimistic last fall, but they may be too pessimistic now.  But pessimistic they are. The bond market, which is the best indicator we have, is declaring that Trumponomics was a flop.

Saturday Morning Male Beauty

Trump Regime Asks SCOTUS To Legalize Firing People For Being Transgender

Just when one thinks the Trump/Pence regime cannot get any more hostile to the rights - indeed the very existence of - LGBT Americans, another shoe drops and it becomes clear that until gays, lesbians and the transgender in particular disappear from public view, the relentless attacks will only intensify.  Pence is hysterically anti-gay in the typical mold of a likely self-loathing closeted gay.  What Trump actually believes is unclear since his main quest is to thrill Christofascists and maintain his support among anti-modernity, knuckle dragging evangelicals. While evangelicals remain rabidly anti-gay, it is transgender individuals who most garner their open hatred, in my view, because they most challenge evangelicals 12th century views on sex and sexuality.  Therefore, they must be destroyed or at least driven from public view.  Playing to this animus, yesterday, the Trump/Pence regime filed a brief with the U. S. Supreme Court that argues that transgender individuals have zero non-discrimination protections.  A piece in BuzzFeed looks at the filing.  Here are highlights:  
The Trump administration on Friday took one of its most aggressive steps yet to legalize anti-transgender discrimination by telling the Supreme Court that federal law allows firing workers solely for being transgender, arguing a Michigan funeral home could fire a transgender woman because she wanted to wear women’s clothing on the job.
Although the administration was expected to take the stance — and had previously said firing workers on the basis of gender identity is legal under federal law — the latest court filing asks the nation’s top court to establish federal case law in a potentially sweeping setback for LGBTQ rights nationwide.
The case is a dispute over the word “sex.” Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 bans workplace discrimination because of sex, but the court’s justices have never decided what, precisely, the term means for LGBTQ workers.
The Justice Department’s brief on Friday contends the word refers to a person’s “biological sex” and, further, that transgender discrimination isn’t addressed by a 1989 Supreme Court ruling that found Title VII bans sex stereotyping.
“Title VII does not prohibit discrimination against transgender persons based on their transgender status,” says a filing by the Justice Department . . . Rather, the administration contends, “Title VII prohibits treating an individual less favorably than similarly situated individuals of the opposite sex.”
A Supreme Court ruling in favor of the administration’s position could set off cascading ramifications for LGBTQ Americans by asserting that laws banning sex-based discrimination must be construed narrowly, and it would have no application for sexual orientation or gender identity — a decision that would likely overflow far beyond workplaces.
No federal law explicitly bans anti-LGBTQ discrimination, but the term “sex” appears in countless state and federal laws, and various policies, that ban discrimination. They have often been used by courts and agencies to protect LGBTQ people in a range of settings — from jobs and schools to doctor’s offices — and a Supreme Court ruling that finds sex absolutely does not protect LGBTQ people could unravel previous court rulings and narrow the meaning of policies.
The administration’s argument against LGBTQ rights matches the advocacy of conservative Christian groups, which claim Congress only intended to ban discrimination because someone is male or female . . . .
The counterargument from LGBTQ advocates and several lower courts, however, is that the intent of lawmakers does not limit a law’s reach, but rather its meaning is defined by the statute’s plain text. They say anti-transgender discrimination can result from a person defying traditional sex stereotypes or because the person transitioned from one sex to another — and thus, it is inherently a type of sex discrimination.
The case at issue is one of three currently before the court about the rights of LGBTQ workers under Title VII — and the only one concerning a transgender worker.
Aimee Stephens had presented as a man when she started her job in 2007 at R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes in Michigan. Six years later, after Stephens announced plans to transition to a woman, the owner, Thomas Rost, fired her.
In siding with Stephens last year, a 49-page opinion led by Judge Karen Nelson Moore at the Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit found that “The unrefuted facts show that the Funeral Home fired Stephens because she refused to abide by her employer’s stereotypical conception of her sex.”
But the Justice Department counters that when the Civil Rights Act passed in 1964, “the ordinary public meaning of ‘sex’ was biological sex. . . . In Stephens’ case, this means government lawyers now say it was legal to fire her — thereby holding the opposite position as the EEOC even though it is representing the EEOC. As such, it says the 6th Circuit ruling should also be reversed.
Represented by the Christian conservative group Alliance Defending Freedom, the funeral home filed a separate brief, filed Friday, that portrays the case as a fight over the essence of gender norms in society, playing off fears stoked by conservatives about transgender people preying on women in bathrooms.
There are ZERO cases of transgender people preying on women.  The same cannot be said for numerous Republican office holders or countless pastors and priests. Sadly, the ADF brief is yet another case of "conservative Christians" lying through their teeth and putting their hypocrisy on open display. If their lips are moving, the safest assumption is that they are lying.  Yes, I am passionate about this issue having been forced from a law firm years ago for being gay.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Friday Morning Male Beauty

White Evangelicals: Ignorance, Racism and Trump

A piece in Vanity Fair by a former evangelical looks at three themes that run through today's white evangelicals.  The first two are racism and an embrace of ignorance and the third, which stems from the first two is a strong support for Donald Trump, a man who embodies everything a true Christian ought to find abhorrent. As the piece correctly notes, evangelicals' involvement in politics arose for one purpose: to oppose desegregation and the consequences of the enactment of civil rights laws to end legal discrimination against blacks and other non-white minorities. As for embracing ignorance, be it the so-called purity movement or denial of climate change or modern knowledge of sexual orientation, it all boils down to one thing: anything that challenges 12th century knowledge based beliefs must be rejected and denied. The GOP long played to evangelicals through racist dog whistle messaging and opposition to civil rights for those evangelicals deemed "other." With Trump, these two pillars of GOP pandering to evangelicals has reached its peak with calls to deport non-whites, efforts to fully legalize anti-LGBT discrimination, and the firing of government scientists who refuse to distort scientific data.  Here are excerpts from the piece:
On its face, evangelical purity culture and American racism overlap only insofar as white people are the dominant participants in both. About two thirds of evangelicals are white (although Latinos make up a growing share), and more than 80% of white evangelicals voted for Trump. Evangelical Christians have long made up the Republican Party’s base, a fact that was front of mind for Trump when he selected Mike Pence as his vice president. Still, evangelicals have long professed to value traditional sexual mores; it was telling to see them largely put those aside to support a thrice-married adulterer. It was telling to see evangelical leaders like Jerry Falwell Jr. claim not just that Trump was a vehicle to achieve certain policy goals, but that he was a fellow traveler.
But that assumes that sexual morality is the primary organizing force for evangelicals. Historically it hasn’t been. Indeed, the origins of evangelicalism as a modern political movement have more to do with opposition to Brown v. Board of Education than Roe v. Wade. American evangelicalism cannot be disentangled from racism—particularly as it becomes further intertwined with the larger religious right.
There’s also a deep psychological overlap between evangelical purity culture and Trumpism. Making America great again and forgoing kissing for courtship both promise an easy route to a glorified past. Both come from a fear of the unknown, an aversion to new experiences, a deep disgust at a perceived other attaining equal footing. (Though in theory purity culture mandates that both men and women remain chaste, in practice the burden falls almost entirely on women.)
In no other pivotal area of life do we insist on the total mindless fidelity that the “send her back” crowd demands. Similarly, for no life-shaping decision do we believe it’s healthy to have the total lack of experience that the “save yourself until marriage” brigade mandates. Team Love It or Leave It also hews to the bizarre theory that less information makes for better decision-making. Both movements are fundamentally invested in embracing ignorance.
Adherents would rather know less, and as a result risk stagnation and decline, than come into contact with information that complicates their view of America as a red, white, and blue “We’re #1!” foam finger. Virginity-until-marriage proponents offer a similar promise: If you don’t know any better, you’ll never want anything more.
Much has rightly been written about the racism at the heart of Trumpism. The fact that Trump voters are motivated by racial animus is backed up by a wealth of research. In the chants of “send her back,” in the fear of an “invasion,” the bigotry is loud and clear. But I also hear the same fear that echoed in the anti-experimentation, anti-sex warnings repeated to me as an adolescent.
America Firsters demand liberal critics leave because those of us suggesting improvements threaten to shatter a closely held narrative. We all search for identity and tribe, but for hypernationalists, their sense of self is firmly rooted in being the tough guy on the winning team. If you’re a member of the long-dominant group in a particular place, your identity may well hinge on an assumption that the place in question is fair, and your dominance therefore justified. Recognizing potential truths in critical appraisals would force much harder, potentially devastating reflections.
Today’s Trumpism also puts the interests of white men front and center, and makes others—women, people of color, and especially women of color—responsible for their dissatisfaction. Trump and his chanting fans have zeroed in on four female congresswomen of color because they rightly see that a multi-tonal sea of Americans is rising to contest their long-held grip on power. The fear that this rise will strip away unearned advantages from whites is just as well founded as the virginity-men’s anxiety that sexual experience would make women more romantically discerning.
Purity proponents, like Team Love It or Leave It, assuage their fears with a demand that everyone else keep their life small—a promise that if they do they’ll benefit, and if they don’t they’ll be punished. The promise-ring peddlers of my youth were afraid for a reason. If girls grew into women who recognized, validated, and acted on their desires, what would happen? We probably wouldn’t marry Trevor from church at 18, for one. We would demand more: a marriage in which sexual satisfaction was a cornerstone; an end to family structures in which men dominate and women serve.
[A]s white evangelicalism has dovetailed with Trumpism, it’s gotten collectively meaner and less subtle, more about explicit dominance and less about promises of happiness and prosperity. What were once racist and misogynist dog whistles have been turned up to ear-splitting decibels.
The racist misogyny that animates the “send her back” hordes is tied to the same underlying values and anxieties that led adults to tell preteens that ignorance and smallness were the secrets to happiness. The same adolescents who heard these messages in high school gymnasiums are now, as adults, grasping at a similar, dimming hope: that if they are effective enough at shaming, threatening, and insulting those of us who want more, we may shrink. And maybe then they can maintain their slipping grip on power.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Thursday Morning Male Beauty

Trump Says OK to Anti-LGBT Discrimination

To date Donald Trump's re-election campaign appears to be based on pandering to those who hold hatred towards others and seek to discriminate against or eliminate those they deem "other." On one front, he is fanning the ugly agenda of white supremacists - the El Paso shooter used some of Trump's language in his "manifesto - and one of his spokesmen, Ken Cuccinelli, who was a toxic extremist while attorney general of Virginia, has argued that the poem on the Statute of Liberty only applied to white Europeans.  On a second front, as underscored yesterday, he is fanning the anti-LGBT hatred of evangelical Christians and has given a nod to employers, including government contractors, to discriminate against LGBT individuals in hiring and employment practices if they site religious belief as the basis of their bigotry. Needless to say, Christofascists and professional "Christians" like Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell, Jr., and Tony Perkins are near orgasmic over the new Department of Labor rule. Nothing in Trump's agenda seeks to unify Americans.  Instead, it is all about playing to his base and sowing hatred and division. A piece in The Advocate looks at how LGBT individuals are being targeted.  Here are excerpts:
Civil rights advocates are enraged by a proposal released by the Department of Labor today to allow federal contractors to discriminate against LGBTQ people and others who offend the contractors’ religious beliefs. 
The action is a notice of proposed rulemaking by the DOL’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs. A DOL press release says a proposed rule on compliance is “intended to clarify the civil rights protections afforded to religious organizations that contract with the federal government” and assure that “conscience and religious freedom are given the broadest protection permitted by law.” But civil rights groups say it weaponizes religious freedom and encourages discrimination.
Basically, any employer, even a for-profit corporation, could claim that sincerely held religious beliefs allow it to deny employment to certain people, including LGBTQ people, single parents, members of other faiths, and more, representatives of several organizations said on the conference call.
The George W. Bush administration had approved an exemption for faith-based contractors, such as, say, Catholic nonprofit organizations, allowing them to favor members of their faith in employment. The Obama order maintained that. But the new proposed rule goes much further, allowing virtually any contractor to claim that religious beliefs allow discrimination against employees who do not follow all of those beliefs, according to the civil rights groups.
The proposal would expand the Bush exemption “by leaps and bounds,” Rachel Laser, president and CEO of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, said on the conference call. She explained, “Any company could take taxpayer dollars and fire a religious minority” or anyone else to whom it objected. And companies would be taken at their word on whether they’re religious in nature, she said: “If they say they’re religious, they are.”

Today’s news follows on other Labor Department actions. The department issued a memo in August of last year instructing those who enforce antidiscrimination law to take companies’ religious beliefs into account, advising compliance program staff that they “cannot act in a manner that passes judgment upon or presupposes the illegitimacy of religious beliefs and practices” . . . . The proposed rule, which will be published in the Federal Register Thursday, would expand upon and codify the memo, activists said. In both the memo and the proposed rule, the DOL refers to recent Supreme Court decisions involving businesses run by religious conservatives, . . . . But the Labor Department is “cherry-picking” those rulings, which did not establish a broad right to discriminate, the activists said. While business owners have every right to observe their religion in their private lives, when they are engaging in commerce, they should not discriminate, said Steve Freeman, vice president of civil rights for the Anti-Defamation League. “The proposal itself is anti-religious, particularly religious minorities. … We are seeing religious freedom weaponized,” he said.
The move also once again shows that the administration of Donald Trump and Mike Pence “is the most anti-LGBTQ administration in modern history,” Warbelow said.  “At the end of the day, it is those two who are responsible,” added Winnie Stachelberg, executive vice president for external affairs at the Center for American Progress.
Among the administration’s other anti-LGBTQ actions, Tobin said, the Department of Justice is preparing a brief in an upcoming Supreme Court case arguing that a funeral home operator in Michigan had the right to fire an employee because she is transgender. Tobin said she has also learned that the Justice Department has demanded that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission quit defending trans people who’ve lost their jobs. The EEOC is a semiautonomous federal agency tasked with investigating discrimination.
These come on top of actions involving discrimination in health care. One is a rule, now final, allowing health care workers to opt out of procedures to which they have religious or moral objections, no matter how marginal their involvement in the procedure might be. The administration is also working on a rule aimed at undermining the Affordable Care Act’s prohibition on discrimination against trans people.
“This administration straight-up believes the LGBTQ community should not have rights,” Stachelberg said.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Wednesday Morning Male Beauty

Trump’s State-by-State Approval Ratings Look Good for Democrats

click image to enlarge.

Donald Trump's campaign strategy for 2020 of fanning hate and division, especial racial hate, in the hopes of mobilizing rural voters and non-college educated whites may not be playing out as planned based on new analysis of his state-by-state approval ratings. The picture looks very positive for Democrats and, if Trump were to fair as poorly as these analyses suggest, he could pull down with him many other Republican candidates. Here in Virginia, many hope the widespread anti-Trump feelings may be the added edge Democrats need to flip control of the Virginia General Assembly and thus flip the middle finger to Der Trumpenführer.  A piece in New York Magazine looks at the survey findings.  Here are highlights:
There has been a lot of discussion in political circles about Donald Trump’s job-approval ratings, what they portend, and Trump’s Electoral College strategy for 2020, which doesn’t necessarily require a popular-vote plurality. But in the end, of course, the conjunction of the Electoral College with Trump’s state-by-state popularity is where the deal will go down.
The online polling firm Civiqs has published a new set of state-by-state job-approval ratings for Trump as of August 11, and it shows how the president’s overall standing (a 43 percent approval rating nationally, which happens to match the current RealClearPolitics polling average) might translate into electorate votes. It’s not a pretty picture for the president, to put it mildly.
Civiqs shows [Trump's] the president’s net approval ratios being underwater (i.e., negative) in 10 states he carried in 2016: Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wisconsin. If that were to represent how the 2020 elections turn out, Trump would have a booming 119 electoral votes.
He’s underwater by 12 points in Pennsylvania, 11 in Michigan, and nine in Arizona, North Carolina, and Wisconsin. And there’s virtually no indication that states that narrowly went for Clinton in 2016 are trending in Trump’s direction: His approval ratios are minus 18 in Colorado, minus 15 in Minnesota, minus 12 in Nevada, and minus 27 in New Hampshire. These are, by the way, polls of registered voters, not just “adults,” so they should be a relatively sound reflection of the views of the electorate.
[T]he other publicly available survey of state-by-state presidential job approval is from Morning Consult, and its latest numbers (as of July) are pretty similar. They show Georgia and Texas as positive for Trump, and North Carolina as very close. But all the other “battleground states” are quite the reach for the incumbent.
If you credit these polls at all, Trump’s reelection will require (1) a big late improvement in his approval ratings, which is possible but unlikely based on long-standing patterns during his polarizing presidency; (2) a campaign that succeeds in making the election turn on theoretical fears about his opponent rather than actual fears about a second Trump term, which won’t be easy either; (3) a big Republican turnout advantage, which is less likely among the larger presidential electorate than it was in 2018; or (4) some diabolical ability to thread the needle despite every contra
If anything, there’s evidence that he is likely to undershoot rather than overshoot his approval ratings as the sitting president of a country whose direction lacks any kind of public confidence. Beyond that, even those who succeed by selling their souls to the devil don’t have the collateral to pull that off twice.
One can only hope that these surveys prove accurate and that things only get worse for Trump and his fellow Republicans.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

More Tuesday Male Beauty

Will Texas be in Play in 2020

Texas state capitol.

One of the things that has pushed Virginia towards full "blue state" status has been the growth of its educated urban and suburban populations which seemingly have at last passed critical mass where they can out vote the reactionary, knuckle dragging rural regions of Virginia.  If the Democrats win control of the Virginia General Assembly n November, legislation long blocked by Republicans will win passage in the string of 2020 and the transformation from red to blue will be near complete. If this happens, expect much wailing and gnashing of teeth from rural areas and the Christofascist at The Family Foundation, Regent University and Liberty University where a 12th century world view still reigns.

Something similar is happening in Texas, although the process is not as far along as in Virginia. Both CNN and New Republic have pieces that look at the urban/suburban growth and the demographic change that have the potential to make 2020 a very bad year for Texas Republicans. Personally, I'd love to see the Texas GOP lose power.  While I have not lived in Texas in decades, I remain a member of the State Bar of Texas and cringe when I see the legislative poison and batshitery pushed by the Texas GOP.  First, these excerpts form the lengthy CNN piece:
The fast-growing metropolitan areas of Texas are moving to the front line of the battle between the two major political parties for control of the nation's direction.  Texas has been a linchpin of the Republican Party's national strength for a generation. But in 2018, Democrats recorded their most significant gains in decades in the state's largest urban centers.
 Now Texas Republicans face indications that the same recoil from President Donald Trump that has hurt the party in other diverse and well-educated metropolitan areas -- from suburban Philadelphia to Orange County, California -- could combine with growing racial diversity to move Texas from reliably red into a genuinely competitive state much more quickly than almost any analyst envisioned even a few years ago. "Trump has sped everything up by four to six years," says Richard Murray, a University of Houston political scientist. For the Republicans, he said, "it's a deadly combination of rapid demographic change and the immediate political dynamics." Texas remains a difficult, though not unreachable, target for Democrats in the 2020 presidential race -- in part because it's unclear whether any potential Democratic nominee other than Beto O'Rourke, who represented a House district in El Paso, would invest the massive sums required to truly compete in the state.
 But the party's improving position in Texas' thriving metropolitan areas is creating the opportunity for it to seriously contest as many as five or six more seats in the US House, possibly recapture enough seats to regain a majority in the state House of Representatives and mount highly competitive races both against Trump and Republican Sen. John Cornyn, who is seeking reelection next year. The battle for the allegiance of metropolitan Texas is likely to be one of the pivot points in American politics over the next decade. Republicans have carried Texas in every presidential race since 1976, and with the help of favorable district lines drawn by the GOP-controlled state Legislature, have been able to count on big margins from its state congressional delegation -- where Republicans now hold 23 of the 36 seats -- as well as its two Senate seats.
 It would fundamentally reshape the competition between the parties if Democrats can loosen the Republican grip on any of those prizes in Texas, especially its 38 Electoral College votes. And if Republicans can no longer count reliably on Texas -- or other Sun Belt states, including Arizona and Georgia, also being transformed by the same twin forces of urbanization and diversification -- it would represent a huge price for the Trump strategy of maximizing support among rural and working-class white voters that has strengthened the GOP in Rust Belt battlegrounds such as Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin.
 The key to Texas' political future is whether it finally follows the geographic realignment that has transformed the politics of many other states over the past quarter century.  Across the country, Republicans since the 1980s have demonstrated increasing strength among voters who live in exurbs at the edge of the nation's metropolitan centers or beyond them entirely in small-town and rural communities. Democrats, in turn, have extended their historic dominance of the nation's urban cores into improved performance in inner suburbs, many of them well educated and racially diverse.
 Both sides of this dynamic have accelerated under Trump, whose open appeals to voters uneasy about racial, cultural and economic change have swelled GOP margins outside the metropolitan areas while alienating many traditionally center-right suburban voters. The key to the GOP's dominance of the state is that through most of this century it has also commanded majorities in the 27 counties that make up the state's four biggest metropolitan areas: Dallas/Fort Worth, Houston, San Antonio and Austin. Demographically similar places in states along the coasts and in the upper Midwest have moved consistently toward the Democrats since Bill Clinton's era. But in Texas, Republicans still carried 53% to 59% of the vote in those metropolitan counties in the four presidential races from 2000 through 2012, Murray and Cross found. In the Trump era, though, that metro strength has wavered for the GOP. In 2016, Hillary Clinton narrowly beat Trump across the 27 counties in Texas' four major metropolitan areas. Then in 2018, Democrat O'Rourke carried over 54% of the vote in them in his narrow loss to Sen. Ted Cruz, Murray and Cross found. O'Rourke won each of the largest metro areas, the first time any Democrat on the top of the ticket had carried all four since native son Lyndon B. Johnson routed Barry Goldwater in the 1964 presidential race, according to Murray and Cross.
 Looking just at the state's five largest urban counties -- Harris (Houston), Travis (Austin), Bexar (San Antonio), Tarrant (Fort Worth) and Dallas -- the change is even more stark. In 2012, Obama won them by a combined 131,000 votes. By 2016, Clinton expanded the Democratic margin across those five counties to 562,000 votes. In 2018, O'Rourke won those counties by a combined 790,000 votes, about six times more than Obama did in 2012. Along the way, Democrats ousted Republican US House incumbents in suburban Houston and Dallas seats and made substantial gains in municipal and state house elections across most of the major metro areas.
 Yet that, of course, still wasn't enough for O'Rourke to overcome Cruz's huge advantages in smaller nonmetro communities. That outcome underscores the equation facing Texas Democrats in 2020 and beyond: They must reduce the GOP's towering margins outside of the major metropolitan areas and/or expand their own advantage inside the metro centers. The stakes in the struggle for Texas' big metro areas are rising because they are growing so fast. While the four major metro areas cast about 60% of the statewide votes in the 1996 presidential election, that rose to about 69% in 2016 and 2018, Murray and Cross found. Murray expects the number to cross 70% in 2020.
 And the concentration of Texas' population into its biggest metropolitan areas shows no signs of slackening. The Texas Demographic Center, the official state demographer, projects that 70% of the state's population growth through 2050 will settle in just 10 large metropolitan counties.
 This urbanization is unfolding together with growing diversification. From 2010 through 2018, the US Census Bureau found, non-Hispanic whites accounted for only 14% of Texas' population growth; Asian-American growth roughly equaled whites', African Americans slightly exceeded both and Hispanics dwarfed all three -- they accounted for over 55% of Texas' population growth in that period. Democrats are cautiously hopeful that a backlash against Trump in minority communities will improve their turnout in 2020, particularly after a young white man echoed Trump's language of "invasion" before carrying out the recent mass shooting in El Paso. The sheer weight of the state's urbanization and diversification will eventually undermine a Trump-type strategy that focuses on maximizing the party's margins outside metro areas at the price of eroding its strength within them. But to close the gap in the next few elections, Democrats may need not only greater turnout but also slightly improved vote shares among their best groups: minorities and especially college-educated white voters. [T]he diverse young families now filling the suburbs of Texas' largest metropolitan areas are very different from the predominantly white families who powered their first wave of growth after the 1960s: While those earlier suburbanites were largely fleeing racially diverse cities, their successors today want to remain close to the cities while securing more affordable housing. "Fundamentally, that's a different kind of mindset," he says, "and that's a mindset that tends to align more with Democratic Party values." For 2020, both sides are preparing extensive voter-mobilization efforts targeted mostly at the major metropolitan areas. Dickey says the state GOP, which for years faced little effective challenge to its control, will launch a major organizational effort next year with both paid staff and volunteers to roll back the 2018 Democratic gains in the big population centers.
 [I]n Texas, as in other states, Trump's racially divisive messaging leaves the GOP facing a stiff headwind in metropolitan areas growing mostly with minority and well-educated white voters. "Trump is killing the urban Republican Party," Murray says flatly.  If that proves true even in Texas, whether in 2020 or soon after, it will fundamentally reshape the national electoral landscape.

The New Republic piece covers some of the same ground but puts more emphasis on how Trump and the Texas GOP's own growing extremism put the state more into possible play.  Here are excerpts:
When Beto O’Rourke proclaimed, during the second round of Democratic presidential debates, that “there’s a new battleground state, Texas, and it has 38 Electoral College votes,” eyes rolled in unison across America. We’ve all heard that nonsense before! Pundits and progressives have been predicting that minority-white Texas would go blue for so long, it’s practically become a running joke. 
But as people in Texas know, O’Rourke wasn’t blowing smoke. Although Republicans have continued to routinely swat away Democrats in statewide races (they haven’t lost one since 1990), while sending legions of unhinged conservatives to gum up the works in Washington, Democrats have taken control of every big city in the state over the past decade—a process that began in Dallas in 2006, when Democrats swept into power. More important, and more worrying for Republicans, that trend spilled over last year into the sprawling suburbs, long the bedrock of Texas Republicanism. Suddenly, Texas Republicans are on the defensive in their national fortress—and they’re both talking and acting like it. “The tectonic plates shifted in Texas in 2018,” Senator John Cornyn, the powerful Republican who’s facing reelection in 2020 (with just a 37 percent approval rating) said earlier this year. . . . “If Texas turns back to a Democratic state, which it used to be, then we’ll never elect another Republican [president] in my lifetime,” said Cornyn. A confluence of events over the past couple of weeks has reinforced Cornyn’s message. In what giddy Democrats are calling “the Texodus,” four Republican members of Congress announced, in short order, that they won’t be running for reelection in 2020; three of their seats, all in the suburbs, will likely go Democratic, adding to the two they took from Republicans in 2018. And then there was President Trump and the terrorism in El Paso. By 2022, Latino Texans are projected to outnumber whites, and the rising majority won’t soon forget the mass murder by a gunman, apparently inspired by Trump’s rhetoric, who took advantage of the state’s insanely lax gun laws. Nor will it forget the way the president put a target on the city’s back, falsely claiming in this year’s State of the Union that El Paso was “one of our nation’s most dangerous cities” before the border barriers went up, then amplifying the message in a rally there a few weeks later. “Murders, murders, murders!” Trump cried out as he talked about immigrants, while his fans chanted, “Build the wall!” Even before the El Paso massacre, Trump had been an albatross for Texas Republicans. While he carried the state in 2016, his single-digit margin of victory—in a state Hillary Clinton didn’t even try to contest—was the narrowest for Republicans in almost 20 years; even Mitt Romney had carried Texas by 16 points. In the Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth areas, which accounted for more than half of the state’s votes, Trump won only 48 percent, and early 2020 polls have shown him losing Texas to O’Rourke, Joe Biden, and Bernie Sanders.
Cal Jillson, a venerable political scientist at Southern Methodist University, is among those who think this president has accelerated the Democratic comeback in Texas. . . . .That’s not just because the president has trashed the image of Republicans for Texas Latinos, who’ve traditionally been more conservative than their peers in places like California; it’s also because the Texas GOP has wholeheartedly embraced Trumpism and Tea Partyism. Despite the state’s ultra-conservative reputation, this is a recent development: When the party rose to power in the 1990s, and then achieved dominance in the 2000s, its leading figures—Governors George W. Bush and Rick Perry—prevented right-wing lawmakers from passing Arizona-style anti-immigration laws.
Governor Greg Abbott and Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, right-wing ideologues who both won reelection last year, have unchained the pent-up lawmakers and activists who’d long chafed at the relative moderation of party leaders—and they’re steering the Texas GOP straight toward self-destruction. “You’ve got a very conservative group of Republicans in the legislature passing their preferred legislation,” Jillson noted, “while the wave builds on the other side and Democrats are making gains.”
[N]obody in Texas, aside from a few blinkered Republicans, believes that Democrats won’t continue to loosen the Republican stranglehold in 2020. At least half a dozen Republican seats in Congress will be ripe for the taking, and Democrats have a realistic chance of capturing the nine Republican seats in the state House they need to gain a majority—just in time for the next round of redistricting in 2021. If they regain a toehold of power in Austin, and can prevent Republicans from having total control over gerrymandering, Democrats could turn Texas blue in a hurry; if not, it’ll probably be a more gradual process over the next decade, with strict voter ID and other forms of suppression still intact, and districts artificially tilted in Republicans’ favor.
Whether Democrats regain power in Texas quickly or gradually, it still adds up to a doomsday scenario for Republicans—and a precious ray of light, through the fog and gloom of Trumpism, for Democrats. 

Tuesday Morning Male Beauty

The Imperial Myths Driving Brexit - and Trump Supporters

A blimp depicting Boris Johnson hovers near a statue of Winston Churchill.Simon Dawson / Reuters).
As noted in prior posts, the parallels between pro-Brexit voters in the United Kingdom and Trump voters are considerable. Both groups long for a glorious mythical - and much whiter - past and seem willing to commit economic and national suicide in order to chase after a past that never quite was as they would remember it.  Both groups are also obsessed with a myth of their respective nation's exceptionalism which typically means they do not want to work with other nations and they seemingly never are open to learning from other nations.  Worse yet, only a sanitized version of the past is remembered and past misdeeds and horrific mistakes and failures are ignored as if they never occurred. A piece in The Atlantic looks at Brexit and the myth of British exceptionalism that in so many ways tracks what one sees among those wearing MAGA hats and attending Trump rallies.  Here are highlights:
For more than three years, the world has watched Britain attempt to act on the result of its 2016 referendum and leave the European Union. Yet while the causes of the Brexit vote were complex, the causes of the catastrophic handling of the Brexit process might be familiar to anyone versed in imperial and post-imperial history.
They stem from what appears to be a belief in British exceptionalism: the idea that Britain is inherently different from, and superior to, other nations and empires.
Margaret Thatcher asserted British exceptionalism with regard to the EU in a 1988 speech, and each of the past three prime ministers has approached the EU from that standpoint—believing that Britain deserves preferential treatment and more-than-equal status.
They have all also believed in their own personal exceptionalism. . . . Now Boris Johnson is voluntarily manufacturing a crisis over no deal—in which Britain would leave the EU without any agreement on the rules and regulations governing how it would trade and work with the bloc—that could send damaging shock waves through Britain, Ireland, and the rest of the EU.
There has been much discussion of the roles of history and memory in relation to Brexit. It may be easy to overstate a simplistic, literalist connection between the empire—imagined as glorious, and unjustly lost—and the impulse to leave the EU. Yet it is hard to avoid the sense that embedded in Brexit is a form of “Make Britain great again.” Sharper parallels are perhaps drawn between Britain’s collective recollection of its part in World War II, heavily mythologized as the moment it stood alone against Adolf Hitler, and the attitude of Brexit supporters to the isolation and hardship Brexit may bring.
While the myths constructed around the history of empire and World War II reinforce British exceptionalism, they are contradictory. The first casts Britain as a superpower; the second as a lone, plucky underdog.
Brexit is a public withdrawal from a voluntary union; Suez [Canal crisis] was a covert invasion of a sovereign state. They are wholly different. Yet there is a familiarity to the grand aspirations undercut by slapdash and delusional strategic planning; to the frantic rush to act, even as it becomes clear that most or all of the options are damaging; to leaders fixated on a path that many can see will probably end badly.
In general, Britain remembers Suez as a blip in what is widely viewed as a mostly well-intentioned and competent imperial policy. Far from ending British exceptionalism, the disaster has been used to reinforce it. Suez can be framed as a unique aberration if it is blamed on what is erroneously held to have been a betrayal by the United States, and on the folly of one man, the physically and mentally exhausted Prime Minister Anthony Eden. That heads off more troubling questions about whether there were deeper problems with cabinet decision making, military advice, foreign policy, the political culture as a whole, and even the nation’s understanding of itself.
Exceptionalism is again visible in what was by most metrics a far bigger disaster than Suez or Amritsar: the partition of India and Pakistan, which left between 1 and 2 million people dead, created 10 million to 20 million refugees, and established a hostile relationship between successor states that threatens global security to this day.
The last British viceroy of India, Lord Mountbatten, has been blamed ever since for speeding Britain’s exit deadline up. What he achieved by that was to ensure that most of the fallout did not happen on Britain’s watch. . . . . Only in the days and weeks after partition did the shocking reports of death and destruction ramp up, and so British exceptionalism was able to remain unscathed. The British could sigh sadly at the appalling outcome, and murmur “après nous, le déluge.” The writer Pankaj Mishra has described a “malign incompetence” common to Mountbatten and the Brexiteers.
A British leadership that wanted to deliver Brexit safely and was not in thrall to exceptionalism might have learned from past mistakes. Suez might have taught it to prefer reality over fantasy, compromise and conciliation over arrogance and vaingloriousness. Partition might have taught it to respect and understand complexity rather than oversimplify difficult problems, to make a plan before setting tight deadlines. Both might have taught it that you should never, ever imagine you’ve had enough of experts.
But to learn from mistakes you must confront them, and exceptionalism means you never do. . . . Brexit is exposing flaws in the British political system and culture, but they are not new. Exceptionalist thinking has long helped insulate that system from the criticism and reform it needs.
For advocates and critics of Brexit alike, it may be tempting to imagine a golden age in which Britain was competent, reliable, stable, and sensible. Looking at its history, though, if it turns out to be none of those things, we shouldn’t be surprised.
So much of this likewise describes the United States.