Saturday, October 26, 2019

Business Confidence In Trump is Collapsing

The Republican Party likes to maintain the myth that it is fiscally conservative and a friend to the business community.  Both are lies as the ballooning federal deficit due to the Trump/GOP tax cuts for the wealthy and the erratic at best Trump trade policies underscore in spades. Now, with the 2020 elections little more than a year away, it appears the economy may be headed for recession even as significant parts of the economy - agriculture and manufacturing - are already in recession thanks in no small part to Trump's trade wars. Making matters worse, the outlook of business leaders is pessimistic due in no small part to the uncertain the Trump/Pence regime casts across the business world.  As one Nobel prize winning economist states "they are facing up to the reality that Trump and his team . . . . have no idea what they’re doing" and are fearful to invest and/or expand their businesses when don't know what curve ball could be thrown there way at any moment. Here are highlights from a New York Times column that looks at the gathering clouds:

Last spring Donald Trump and the people around him probably thought they had a relatively clear path to re-election.
On one side, it looked as if Trump had weathered the threat of politically fatal scandal. The much-awaited Mueller report on Russian election intervention had landed with a dull thud; the details were damning, but it had basically no political impact.
At the same time, Trump was convinced that he could run on the basis of a booming economy.
What a difference a few months make.
Everyone is following the impeachment story, and I don’t have much to add, except a warning: At every stage of this process, Republicans have proved willing to engage in stunningly bad behavior. Did anyone foresee Wednesday’s physical attempt to disrupt the House inquiry? The point is that as the net closes in, the G.O.P. response is likely to be uglier than you can possibly imagine.
What’s getting less attention, understandably, is the way the Trump economic narrative is falling apart. . . . important parts of the economy are lagging. Manufacturing production is down over the past year; combined with weakness in shipping and very hard times in agriculture, around a fifth of the economy is effectively in recession. In particular, manufacturing employment has been falling in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, states that chose Trump by tiny margins in 2016, giving him a win in the Electoral College despite losing the popular vote.
And overall growth, while still positive, is definitely slowing:nowcasts,” which use partial data to estimate what official economic data will say when it’s eventually released, suggest an economy growing at an unimpressive annual rate of less than 2 percent. . . . this is not good news for Republicans.
You can see this collapse several ways. One is through surveys of business executives, who spent Trump’s first two years being very bullish, but have now become remarkably pessimistic.
You can also see it in the bond market, a much better indicator of economic expectations than the stock market. . . . 10-year bond rates have plunged, from more than 3 percent last year to 1.75 percent as I write this. The last time we saw this kind of plunge was 2010-11, when investors finally realized that recovery from the Great Recession was going to be slow and painful, not a repeat of “morning in America.”
So what happened to the Trump boom? The collapse in confidence began late last year, when it became clear that Trump was serious about waging trade war on China; it continued as evidence accumulated that the 2017 tax cut was a big fizzle, doing basically nothing to boost business investment and providing at most a brief sugar high to overall growth.
But the truth is that even pessimists expected the tax cut to do more good, and the trade war less harm, than they did. Why have things turned out so poorly? One answer, to which I’ve subscribed, is that in addition to its direct impacts on U.S. exports and businesses that rely on Chinese suppliers, the trade war has created damaging uncertainty. Businesses that rely on global supply chains won’t invest for fear that the trade war will get even worse; but businesses that might move in to replace imports also won’t invest for fear that Trump will eventually back down.
I suspect, however, that there’s even more to the story. Business interests spent a long time in denial, but now even they are facing up to the reality that Trump and his team are very strange people who have no idea what they’re doing — and the uncertainty that reality implies.
Next year’s election should be about Trump’s betrayal of his oath of office. Realistically, however, it also matters that the economy probably won’t be his friend.

Saturday Morning Male Beauty

Neil Gorsuch Has Revealed Conservative Justices' Partisanship

Justices Gorsuch and Roberts.
Judges and Supreme Court Justices are supposed to base their rulings on the law, the Constitution and the facts yet increasingly we are witnessing the conservatives on the U.S.S Supreme Court and right wing Republican appointed judges - especially Trump appointees, a number of which have been rated as unfit by the American Bar Association - motivated by political ideology and partisan affiliation and even personal religious belief rather than basing rulings on the language of the Constitution, statutes and scientific and medical facts. In the recent oral arguments before the Supreme Court concerning whether LGBT Americans are protected by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Justice Gorsuch tipped his hand that he may be more worried by the reaction of the ugliest elements of the GOP base - think Christofascists and evangelicals - if the Court rules that it is illegal to discriminate against gays and transgender employees. Indeed, Gorsuch commented on potential "massive social upheaval" which suggests that had he been on the Court at the time of Brown v. Board of Education, we'd still have segregated schools.  A piece in The Advocate looks at Gorsuch's candid and dangerous agenda.  Here are excerpts:
As a frequent critic of the Supreme Court’s conservative majority and a long-standing activist for transgender rights, I am probably one of the few members of my community who feels grateful for Justice Neil Gorsuch’s acknowledgement that he fears extending employment non-discrimination protections to transgender Americans would unleash “massive social upheaval.” I found Justice Gorsuch’s remark — which many have interpreted as an indication that the Court may decline to protect transgender workers — to be refreshing for its honesty and transparency. If Gorsuch votes against extending protections, he acknowledged candidly, he would do so not on the basis of law, fairness, or judicial philosophy, but because of his assessment of public opinion, something Supreme Court justices rarely concede they take into consideration.
Integrity is obviously a crucial attribute of any judge, but has been sorely lacking in recent years among members of the Court’s conservative majority. To take an example I know well, earlier this year, a slim 5-4 majority accepted the Trump administration's false assertion that allowing transgender troops to serve posed a “risk to military effectiveness and lethality," thus allowing the president to reinstate the military’s transgender ban. But all service chiefs had testified that inclusive policy was a success, and the administration's claim about risk was based on medical arguments that the American Medical Association and former Military Surgeons General and U.S. Surgeons General had repudiated.
When a court’s rulings depend on the elision of fact, civil rights and even democracy itself can suffer, and the transgender military ruling, unfortunately, is far from exceptional. Critics have suggested that the Court’s most important decisions in recent years, including dismantling the Voting Rights Act and upholding the travel ban, have ignored key facts in service of partisan ends.
Given the conservative majority's arguably vexed relationship with evidence, Justice Gorsuch's integrity is admirable. But if his acknowledgment is refreshing for its candor, it is troubling at the same time, as the premise of his revelation — that a ruling extending protections would promote upheaval — has no basis in fact. Numerous polls confirm that the American public overwhelmingly supports extending non-discrimination protections to transgender employees. As a political science professor and LGBT advocate, I am unaware of any massive social upheaval in the 21 states whose laws explicitly protect transgender individuals . . . he is certainly entitled to his imagination. But his concerns have no basis in reality.
What likely worries Justice Gorsuch is that some conservatives believe that treating transgender employees equally violates their religious convictions. Setting aside that many evangelical Christians support employment non-discrimination for LGBT Americans, civil rights protected by laws and by the Constitution should not depend on the public’s comfort. Brown v. Board of Education, the 1954 ruling prohibiting states from establishing racial discrimination in public schools, led to social unrest. But it was unquestionably correctly decided. By revealing his concerns about social upheaval, Justice Gorsuch has given up the ghost on the conservative majority’s true partisan priority, whether the Court thinks the GOP’s base will like a decision. That is dangerous partisanship that has no place on the bench.
[I]t is ethically unacceptable to prioritize the religious injury that some employers might believe themselves to suffer if forced to treat transgender workers equally with the tangible injury that transgender employees suffer when they are denied employment on the basis of their gender identity. Some employers surely believe that they compromise their religious convictions when they are forced to treat women, racial minorities, and Muslims equally, but catering to such beliefs would be immoral. Whether one interprets religious objections to treating transgender employees equally as unreasonable animus or reasonable religious belief, there is no comparison between such objections and the consequences of being fired. That Gorsuch and his conservative colleagues on the bench would entertain the comparison is, at best, problematic.
Justice Gorsuch’s concern is even at odds with his judicial philosophy. Gorsuch professes a commitment to “textualism,” . . . . that explicitly disavows any concern for public opinion.
Eve Sedgwick, had an insightful reading of Justice Byron White's opinion in Bowers v. Hardwick—the now-overturned 1986 case that allowed states to criminalize same-sex sex: She demonstrated that White’s ruling against gays and lesbians depended on a refusal to recognize hard facts, a maneuver she labeled as "willful ignorance." According to Sedgwick, White's sidestepping of evidence he did not like was a “contemptuous demonstration that powerful people don't have to be acute or right."
Gorsuch’s stated concern about “massive social upheaval” smacks of the same conceit. As conservative jurists twist facts to sustain partisan rulings that injure everyday Americans, progressives are becoming increasingly vocal about the possible need for judicial reform. Hopefully, Justice Gorsuch and his colleagues will heed such warnings before driving the Court and the democracy itself off a cliff.

Friday, October 25, 2019

Friday Morning Male Beauty

LGBT Activists Call for Removal of Anti-Gay Human Rights Commissioner

Virginia Beach is rapidly gaining national and international media attention due to the horrific anti-gay and anti-transgender remarks made by  a member of the City's Human Rights Commission. For a city that depends so heavily on tourism dollars, being perceived as intolerant and unwelcoming can be a kiss of death and Commissioner LaKendrick El toxic Facebook Posts are rapidly undue years of city efforts to enhance the city's image nationally and internationally. In an unusual display of unity, area LGBT organizations and activists have unanimously called for El's removal - something that seemingly is supported by a majority of the members of Virginia Beach City Council.  The Virginian Pilot is  reporting on the controversy that is generating animosity among elements of the city's population.  So far, there is no word on whether El will resign or be removed by City Council.  Here are article highlights (note El's comments about "special rights" - something that it is actually Christofascists and other right wing religious extremists are seeking for themselves): 
Leaders in Hampton Roads’ LGBT community called for the removal of a member of Virginia Beach’s Human Rights Commission on Thursday following comments he posted on Facebook saying homosexuality was an “abomination” and that transgender people suffer from a mental illness.
It’s unclear what sparked the series of Facebook posts by LaKendrick El on Monday. El did not respond to a message from The Virginian-Pilot seeking comment.
El’s posts are not publicly viewable, but screen shots provided to the Pilot by the advocacy group Hampton Roads Pride show that he shared a 2017 news story about a transgender woman in Wyoming who was convicted of sexually assaulting a 10-year-old girl in a bathroom in a private home [El may have quoted a false Fox News story about this occurence].
“This is why we need to stop giving men in dresses passes,” El wrote. “I have daughters and I won’t accept them sharing a restroom with a grown man suffering from this mental illness.”
In a separate post less than 15 minutes later, El suggested that gay and lesbian people are getting special treatment, although he did not specify in what way.
“Stop promoting sexuality to our children. Two men or women together is an abomination according to my faith,” he wrote. “Stop promoting your sexual behavior expecting special treatment based on who you’re having sex with.”
LGBT advocates expressed dismay that a member of a human rights commission would express such views. Stacie Walls-Beegle, executive director of the LGBT Life Center in Norfolk, said El’s comments are especially harmful to those struggling to understand their sexuality.
El’s comments also drew the ire of his fellow commission members, the city’s mayor and a majority of city council members.
“The Virginia Beach Human Rights Commission was founded to institute, conduct and engage in educational and informational programs for the promotion of mutual understanding and respect among citizens and the fulfillment of human rights," Mayor Bobby Dyer said at a news conference.
“We believe the public comments of Brother LaKendrick Coburn El are contrary to these basic goals that are the core of the Human Rights Commission, and it is no longer appropriate for him to serve in this capacity."
The commission’s chairwoman, Sylvia Nery-Strickland, said El’s comments do not reflect her group’s position.
“I am deeply saddened at the anguish and pain affecting LGBT community,” she said. “I understand how hurtful these comments are. … These comments stand in start contrast to the public position of the Human Rights Commission."
I would also note that time and time again when political figures and right wing religious figures are stridently anti-gay, it's usually only a matter of time before they are exposed for being sexual predators or engaging in the type of sex they are outwardly condemning. Think former congressman Ed Shrock, Tim Haggard, and an endless parade of Republican office holders this blog has noted over the years.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

More Thursday Male Beauty

The Trade War’s Risks for Trump

For years now the Republican Party has used appeals to racism, homophobia and evangelical Christian extremism to convince voters in their base to vote against their own economic interest.  Donald Trump has embraced this playbook with gusto and ramped it up to new levels, with outright appeals to white supremacists and Christian dominionists. Now, the question is whether his ill-conceived trade wars and the damage being wrought on agriculture and manufacturing in swing states be enough to finally convince some in the GOP base to rethink their blind support for Trump.  Given that Trump's Electoral College win - a demonstration why that antiquated system needs to be repealed - was roughly 70,000 votes spread across three states, even a slight erosion in farming and manufacturing worker support could prove fatal.  A piece in Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball looks at the situation and the evidence that at least so far, policies embracing racism, homophobia and religious extremism are still working for Trump.  Here are excerpts:

Trump has taken a hard line on trade. He’s imposed tariffs on steel, aluminum, and on a wide variety of Chinese products. In response, China has slapped tariffs on American products.
If Trump’s trade strategy poses risks for the economy, it also poses risks for his reelection strategy. That’s because farmers and manufacturers in battleground states are facing retaliatory tariffs on their products.
To measure Trump’s degree of risk, we analyzed 14 battleground states — 10 of them won by Trump in 2016 and four won by Hillary Clinton.
Eight of the battleground states we studied are reliant on manufacturing and agriculture to a greater degree than the nation as a whole. In descending order, these eight states are Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Minnesota, Texas, and Pennsylvania.
Notice anything about these states? Trump won seven of them in 2016, making the core of his Electoral College majority at special risk from fallout from tariffs. Especially notable is the inclusion on this list of the three narrowly divided states that made his victory possible: Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.
[O]nly one state saw agricultural production grow between 2017 and 2018 — Georgia. The other 13 states saw declines in the agricultural sector during that period.
And the worst-performing agricultural states? Six of the seven worst-faring farm states were won by Trump in 2016 — those same three cornerstone states (Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin) plus Arizona, Florida, and North Carolina . . . Two other Trump states, Iowa and Ohio, also fared worse than the national average.
[T]he most recent data available — the annualized change between the fourth quarter of 2018 and the first quarter of 2019 — shows a broad manufacturing slowdown.
Ten battleground states saw lower annualized manufacturing growth in the first quarter of the year than they saw during the previous full year. These included seven Trump-won states, three of which were the pivotal ones — Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.A key question, though, is whether any of this will matter electorally. When we checked with political observers in these states, they said that losses among farm and factory families pose a risk to Trump’s electoral prospects, but they added that there’s little hard evidence of that happening yet.
University of Northern Iowa political scientist Christopher Larimer — who calls this “the fundamental question heading into the 2020 election” — said he has “yet to see anything” that would suggest these voters are going to abandon the GOP in significant numbers. That could change as more polls are fielded as the election approaches.
One unknown is whether Democrats make a play for these demographic groups, said Terry Madonna, director of the Franklin and Marshall College poll in Pennsylvania.
“The Democrats still have not been regularly courting the working class, except for an occasional foray into places they predominate,” he said. In Pennsylvania, he said, Democratic gains seem more likely to come from Republicans in suburban areas turning against the president.
Depressed turnout among disaffected farm and factory voters might be more likely than actually switching rural and blue-collar Republicans to support whoever the Democratic nominee is.
Especially in the three pivotal states of Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, it wouldn’t take much to shift the balance.
Craig Gilbert, a political journalist for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, has reported extensively from the swing rural areas of western and southwestern Wisconsin. He said he hasn’t encountered any sign of mass defections from the historically strong levels of Trump support in 2016, but he added that it remains an open question whether more modest shifts could occur.
Bottom line: Trump’s trade policy could weaken his support in key states, but for now at least, there’s little evidence of widespread damage to Trump’s standing among the farm and factory demographics. Until further notice, cultural issues appear to be taking prominence over economic ones.

Thursday Morning Male Beauty

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Black Homophobia - and Hypocrisy - Again Rears Its Ugly Head

Unfit for his position - LaKendrick Coburn El.
This blog has addressed this topic in the past and two recent events have prompted me to address it again.  The issue?  Black homophobia and the double standard that some - and I stress the word "some" - in the black community apply to others, gays in particular.  On the one hand, these individuals demand that others, including the gay community, support their civil rights, disavow racial bigotry and condemn racial discrimination, yet refuse to extend similar support to the civil rights of others and refuse to condemn homophobia - something that remains far too rampant in the black community and which is skillfully played by anti-gay white supremacists such as those at The Family Foundation here in Virginia, and groups like Family Research Council at the national level to induce blacks to vote against their own best interests by playing the anti-gay card and/or appealing to ignorance based religious belief.  

The first involves shockingly homophobic Facebook posts by Brother LaKendrick Coburn El, a member of the Virginia Beach Human Rights Commission, in which he described homosexuality as a “mental illness” and “abomination.”  WAVY TV reported on these toxic statements.  One such post read that “Men trying to be women and women trying to be men is really confusing our children and I’m tired of seeing this nonsense promoted to our children.” Kenick El went on to write “Homosexuality is an abomination to the Human Race.”  In a typical dodge by bigots like Kenick El, while refusing to return multiple requests for comment from WAVY 10 On Your Side, he wrote on his Facebook that his views were written on his “personal page” and “express my personal views.”  Kendick El appears clueless to the reality that when he accepted appointment to the Human Rights Commission, he assumed certain responsibilities for ALL citizens and forfeited his ability to express his "personal opinions." If he wants to denigrate the rights of others, then he needs to get off the Commission. He doesn't get to have it both ways. Neither do others in the black community who push a double standard.  You want my full support, I expect nothing less in return. 

The second instance involves the findings of internal focus groups conducted over the summer by Pete Buttigieg’s presidential campaign that reveal that Buttigieg may face a struggle with African-American voters in South Carolina because of his sexual orientation.  Applying this bigoted (and, in my view, hypocrisy fraught) standard, no gay - or non-black for that matter - should vote for a black candidate.   A piece in Metro Weekly looks at the bigotry and homophobia still so pervasive in some portions of the black community.  The irony, of course, is that this homophobia fuels black men "being on the down low" - and there are LOTS of them - which has been a major cause in the spread of HIV/AIDS to black women.  Here are article highlights:
Internal focus groups conducted over the summer by Pete Buttigieg’s presidential campaign reveal that the South Bend, Ind., mayor may struggle with African-American voters in South Carolina because of his sexual orientation.
In a 21-page report, the Benenson Strategy Group, which conducted the focus groups with black self-identified Democratic voters in South Carolina, noted that “being gay was a barrier for these voters, particularly for the men who seemed deeply uncomfortable even discussing it…. [T]heir preference is for his sexuality to not be front and center.”
While the report finds that Buttigieg’s sexual orientation is not a “disqualifier” for those voters, some participants questioned why Buttigieg has bothered to bring up or acknowledge his sexuality or his marriage to his husband, Chasten.
“That’s not my thing but I wouldn’t want to know that as a candidate,” one female participant under 40 said. “Too much information.”
Other voters are concerned whether Buttigieg’s sexuality could be a detriment when dealing with foreign leaders who represent countries where homosexuality is illegal or frowned upon.
Of all members of the focus group, older women (those ages 40 to 65) were the most capable of moving past Buttigieg’s sexual orientation, but even they preferred that he not emphasize it as much.
The focus groups found that most voters in all subgroups were able to get past Buttigieg’s sexual orientation, due in part to his demeanor and speaking style, which some compared favorably to Obama. But they expressed the need to see significant endorsements from prominent African-Americans, which would be more helpful in convincing them that “other” people won’t have a problem with Buttigieg’s sexual orientation and that it wouldn’t become an issue in the general election.

I'm sorry, but to those who wish he had not brought up his sexual orientation I ask, what planet are you living on?  Do they seriously believe that his opponents and/or Republicans will not bring it up? 

Wednesday Morning Male Beauty

Insurance Companies: A Major Problem in America's Health Care

Having gone through proton therapy and been on an expensive medication myself during the last year, I know first hand the problems most Americans face when seeking medical treatment.  One of the biggest is the effort by insurance companies to deny coverage and/or restrict permitted medications for the simple purpose of reducing payouts. The companies that happily take your premium payments simply do not want to have to pay out claims when their insureds need medical care or expensive medications.  In my own case, everything was eventually covered after protracted confrontations with my prescription insurance carrier.  Many are not so lucky and the reality is that most of us find non-medical personnel trying to dictate our medical care.  An op-ed in the Washington Post looks at this problem which, to me, is the reason a private for profit health insurance system without a significant challenge of a public option will never best serve individuals' and families' needs.  Here are column excerpts:
We know how important it is to have insurance so that we can get health care. As a physician, parent and patient, I cannot overemphasize that having insurance is not enough.
As a gastroenterologist, I often prescribe expensive medications or tests for my patients. But for insurance companies to cover those treatments, I must submit a “prior authorization” to the companies, and it can take days or weeks to hear back.
Because it ends up with the desired outcome, you might think this is reasonable. It’s not. On most occasions the “peer” reviewer is unqualified to make an assessment about the specific services. They usually have minimal or incorrect information about the patient. Not one has examined or spoken with the patient, as I have. None of them have a long-term relationship with the patient and family, as I have.
The insurance company will say this system makes sure patients get the right medications. It doesn’t. It exists so that many patients will fail to get the medications they need.
I’ve dealt with this system from the patient side, as well. My daughter has a rare genetic disorder . . . She receives applied behavior analysis therapy, an approach often used for autism, and which has been wildly successful in improving her skills and communication. But recently, our health insurer reduced the amount of therapy they thought she needed.
I probably have better access than almost anyone else can get, yet the ability of my daughter’s providers to mitigate denials for services they deem appropriate is slow and often ineffective.
My daughter can languish for months or years not receiving care that every highly qualified person who treats her agrees she needs. While we wait, the window to give her a little bit more function, a little bit less suffering and a little better life gets smaller.
Consumers have a right to appeal denials for health-care services, but regulations still largely focus on the process, not the content. For instance, insurers are required to notify you in writing of a denial, and patients have the right to an internal appeal; if that fails, some states also allow for an external review.
Insurance companies know that many patients don’t bother to appeal at all. A smaller fraction ask for an internal review, and still fewer seek or even know about external review options available in most states. Of the cases that do end up under external review, almost a third of all insurer denials are overturned. This is clear proof that whatever process insurers have to determine medical necessity is often not in line with medical opinion. A study of emergency room visits found that when one insurance company denied visits as being “not emergencies,” more than 85 percent of them met a “prudent layperson” standard for coverage.
This is a system that saves insurance companies money by reflexively denying medical care that has been determined necessary by a physician. And it should come as no surprise that denials have a disproportionate effect on vulnerable patient populations, such as sexual-minority youths and cancer patients.
When an insurance company reflexively denies care and then makes it difficult to appeal that denial, it is making health-care decisions for patients. In other words, insurance officials are practicing medicine without accepting the professional, personal or legal liability that comes with the territory.
We don’t have to put up with this. Health care in the United States is shockingly opaque; it’s time to take insurance companies out of our decision-making process.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Why Extreme Virginia Republicans Need to be Defeated

In not many days, Virginians will go to the polls and decide who controls the Virginia General Assembly. If Republicans retain control, the obstruction  we have seen for over a decade and slavish self prostitution to the gun lobby will continue and common sense gun control will be blocked - Virginia Republicans made this very clear when they shut down the special session called in the wake of the Virginia Beach mass shooting.  Many other much needed progressive reforms will likewise be blocked if Republicans retain control.  To move Virginia forward, it is essential that the Virginia GOP lose control of BOTH houses of the Virginia General Assembly.  A piece in the Virginian Pilot looks at what is at stake.  Here are column highlights:
Were the Democrats to win majorities in both chambers, it would give the party total control of state government for the first time in a generation. It would remove obstacles to long-sought policy priorities, such as stricter gun control, raising the minimum wage, passing the Equal Rights Amendment, and protecting access to reproductive care.
If Republicans can maintain control, expect the GOP to continue to stand firm against new gun laws, to hammer out the details on work requirements for Medicaid access, to reduce taxes and regulations, and to continue the fight against abortion.
Expect legislation about the future of marijuana, gambling, power generation and health care to find their way to the floor as well — their forms dependent on which party guards the gate.
Some items should proceed regardless of which party holds power, most notably the initial steps toward creating an independent, non-partisan redistricting process and to create the type of economic climate that drew Amazon to locate in northern Virginia.
Redistricting reform is key, as crooked past practices promise to have an effect on the races voters see on their ballots. Recall that earlier this year that a legal challenge to the House district maps adopted by the General Assembly in 2011 concluded with 11 districts invalidated as unconstitutional racial gerrymanders, including six in Hampton Roads.
Virginia has been operating under these illegal districts for years. And it’s imperative for the next set of maps to comport with the Constitution so the commonwealth can avoid the protracted legal battle that affected the voting landscape for far too long.
As well, both parties should be deeply concerned about the massive cost facing Virginia as a result of a changing climate and the resulting sea-level rise. Protecting this region will cost billions of dollars, as studies of resilience strategies for Norfolk and Virginia Beach aptly demonstrate.
The cities cannot pay for this infrastructure independent of Richmond, and the whole of the commonwealth has a vested interest in ensuring that Hampton Roads can mitigate the potential damage of recurrent flooding.
Hampton Roads could play the deciding role in who holds the levers of power in the halls of state government. The region has a number of closely contested races that have earned considerable attention.
Given that the outcome of these elections will chart a course for Virginia that will resonate for years to come, voters should turn out in droves on Nov. 5 — and we should be embarrassed if it does not. Commonwealth voters shouldn’t leave anything to chance, and instead spend time getting informed about local races, learning about the candidates and making plans to have their say.

What is striking from the political ads now running on television, the main GOP argument is that Democrats are lying about the records of incumbents (Chris Jones is one such liar) - hoping uninformed voters will fall for these lies - and pretending to be moderates and lying about the GOP candidates' real agenda: blocking progress on health care, pandering to the gun lobby, and blocking efforts to address climate change and rising sea levels.  And yes, there is a strong anti-gay undercurrent that GOP candidates seek to hide from voters.

In 2017 long time anti-gay extremist Del. Bob Marshall at last was sent down to defeat.  Other anti-gay, pro-gun extremist remain in office or are seeking seats in the legislature.  One incumbent who needs to be defeated is Sen. Amanda Chase who wants unlimited access to guns and subscribes to the worst anti-gay lies disseminated by The Family Foundation, Virginia's leading hate group.  Indeed, as Virginia Dogwood News reports, Chase supports electric-shock therapy on LGBT individuals to "change" them:

Chase says she opposes electroshock therapy and other torturous conversion therapy…But in 2019, Chase voted against a bill that would have banned electroshock therapy because it “violates free speech, religious liberty, and endangers children who should be able to receive helpful counsel.”

Not surprisingly, she believes religious belief outweighs non-discrimination laws of all stripes.

Chase is not alone in her extremism.  Locally in the 91st District, Republican candidate Colleen Holcomb is a far right whack job hiding behind a falsely moderate campaign website.  In contrast, her opponent, Democrat Martha Mugler would be a voice of sanity.  In the 13th District, Kelly McGinn is another anti-modernity, pro-gun, anti-gay extremist.  These candidates and incumbents like Chase need to be defeated.  It is urgent Virginians vote for progress on November 5th and send the GOP into minority status. 

Tuesday Morning Male Beauty

Monday, October 21, 2019

Pete Buttigieg's Impressive Rise in the Iowa Polls

An earlier post today noted my worries about Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren in a general election against Donald Trump.  The same applies to Bernie Sanders who appears a significantly weakened candidate in the wake of his heart attack. While I have not picked my favorite candidate, I am certainly paying attention to Pete Buttigieg who, as USA Today has noted is rising significantly in the polls:
Buttigieg has vaulted himself into the top tier of candidates on the back of a convincing debate performance, according to today’s Suffolk University/USA TODAY poll . . . Here’s where the race stands in Iowa: Former Vice President Joe Biden (19%) leads Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren (18%), with Buttigieg capturing 13%, Sanders receiving 9%, and billionaire Tom Steyer, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, and California Sen. Kamala Harris all tied at 3%. . . .
Among only debate watchers, Buttigieg topped the entire Iowa field with 19%, followed by Biden and Warren (tied at 17%), Sanders (9%), and Klobuchar (6%). Both Buttigieg (39%) and Klobuchar (28%) were seen as debate winners last week.

Yes, Buttigieg is young - so were many of the Founding Fathers at the time of the American Revolution - and gay, which means hard core Trump voters would not vote for him.  Neither would they vote for Warren, Biden or any of the other Democrat Candidates. He does, however, have the ability to attract non-aligned moderates and even some Republicans with his adult in the room approach to health care reform and foreign policy.   A column in the Washington Post looks at this aspect of Buttigieg's policy positions and impressive speaking skills.  Here are highlights:
The youngest candidate in the Democratic field [Pete Buttigieg], the one with no civilian experience above the position of mayor, is leading the debate on Syria and pushing one of the top-tier candidates to rethink a major strategic decision.
Buttigieg was on CNN and “Fox News Sunday” expounding on Syria. He told Fox News’s Chris Wallace:
When it comes to what is being done to not just the Middle East, for example, but to American credibility. The fact that right now people who put their lives on the line, trusting that the United States would have their back, and are now betrayed, the fact that U.S. troops in the field feel that their honor has been stolen from them by their commander in chief, how can you not be fired up about something like that?
It is worth underscoring that Buttigieg does not get many Brownie points in a Democratic primary for making a robust defense of U.S. leadership in the Middle East.
. . . Buttigieg has decided to be the grown-up, and incidentally, preserved his viability in the general election as sufficiently tough on national security.
Buttigieg candidly told Chuck Todd on “Meet the Press” that he wasn’t going to play the game of promising an immediate pullout:
We know that we need to promote stability, that we need to stand by our allies and that there will be legitimate Turkish security concerns that will also be part of the equation. But right now what’s happening is the future over there is being decided by everybody but the United States. Russia, Iran, Turkey. . . . the first order of business will be to restore U.S. credibility. Not just with regard to the Middle East but globally.
And he showed restraint when offered the opening to threaten to kick Turkey out of NATO:
Well, right now what we’ve got to do is engage Turkey as an ally. You know, I served alongside Turkish troops in Afghanistan. That alliance is important. And it’s leverage for us to make sure that we use our influence to prevent bad outcomes like the one that Donald Trump greenlighted that they’re doing right now. If they don’t act like an ally in the long-run, that’s going to have consequences.
Buttigieg declined to join Warren and others who have cheered for an immediate pullout from Afghanistan. . . . . Buttigieg pointed out, a lighter footprint with counter-terrorism capacity is “exactly what we had in Syria. A matter of just a few dozen troops, special operators in just the right places, making it possible to prevent the descent into chaos we’re seeing now. So you see, what was withdrawn from Syria is exactly the sort of thing that if we had it in Afghanistan would prevent endless war of the scale that we’re seeing now.”
On Fox News, Buttigieg again pitched an alternate path to Medicare-for-all:
I think that we have a chance to build an American majority around bold action. But it is the case that we could wreck that majority through purity tests. Look, take the example of this Medicare question. I’m proposing Medicare for all who want it. It means we create a version of Medicare, everybody can get access to it, and if you get — if you want to keep your private plan, we’re okay with that. I think that’s a better policy than kicking people off of their plan.
[O]n “Meet the Press,” he pointed out that “my plan is paid for. And we have an opportunity to get everybody health care without kicking people off their private plans and without the multitrillion-dollar hole that appears to be there, unexplained, in Sen. Warren’s plan.”
If Buttigieg is trying to position himself as the younger, more verbally adept moderate in the Democratic race, pushing Warren around and defending an internationalist foreign policy might earn him a starring role. As he shows command of policy and of the debate stage, he is making the case for his viability in the primary. And he implicitly is demonstrating that his cool, deliberate style would be a huge asset against Trump in the general election. A candidate who can go on any talk show and run a “straight-talk express” kind of bus tour with the media is one confident in his ability to be his own best advocate.
If Warren does come forward with details on her Medicare-for-all plan, Buttigieg can claim victory. Then, perhaps, he can get her to explain why it is so necessary to eliminate choice for Americans (if expanded Medicare is so great, they’ll select that under the public option) and how she is going to seamlessly reconfigure our entire health-care insurance system, going from primarily private to exclusively public payment.
Buttigieg is not the only candidate advocating a responsible internationalist role in the world, nor the only one challenging Warren. He might, however, have been the most effective and might the biggest impression with primary voters.

Monday Morning Male Beauty

Biden and Warren Can’t Avoid Their Weaknesses Forever

While both remain in the lead in various polls on the Democrat presidential nomination contest, both Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren leave me with a sense of unease and a continued fear that neither can defeat Trump in a general election.  On Biden's part - if one overlooks his constant gaffes and age - the albatross of his son Hunter hangs over him and he refuses to fully and properly address the issue - something that plays directly into the hands of Trump and Fox News, the GOP state news channel.  On Warren's part, her refusal to admit that her health care plan would raise taxes in a very visible way is an Achilles heel that will not go away.  This, combined with her liberalism in general could likewise play to Trump's advantage. As a piece in New York Magazine notes, neither one of these candidates appears willing to address these liabilities and prepare for an onslaught by Trump should they win the nomination.  Here are article highlights:
If you paid close attention to the Democratic presidential debate this week, you noticed something that Democrats might find disturbing. The two leading candidates — Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden, probably in that order — both faced tough questions that could damage them in the general election. And neither appears prepared to defend themselves against what is coming.
Begin with Biden, who has a simple problem with no clear solution. His son, Hunter, traded on his father’s name. In Ukraine, Hunter Biden accepted a lucrative position on the board of Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company. Burisma surely believed hiring the vice-president’s son would give it political juice with the United States government. It did not. . . . Yet this does not fully absolve either Joe or Hunter. . . . At minimum, the arrangement marginally spent down the moral capital of the American government and economy by promoting the perception that official favor can be purchased through family members of powerful officials.
Trump, of course, has degraded that moral capital a million times over with his open nepotism and self-dealing. The problem Biden faces is that it is difficult to communicate the nuance of his position. . . . . Biden’s response to this dilemma was to elide it completely. At the debate, Biden simply insisted he and Hunter did nothing wrong while deflecting the inquiry.
For human and understandable reasons, Biden is obviously reluctant to scold his troubled son in public. Yet the fact is that his son’s behavior is an albatross for the father, and all indications suggest that, if Biden wins the nomination, the damage from this relationship will only grow.
Warren, for her part, faced yet another round of criticism over her refusal to acknowledge the financing mechanism of the health-care plan she has endorsed. The political weak point of the Sanders plan is that it would move 157 million Americans off of employer-sponsored insurance and onto Medicare. In theory, this should work out great. (I would be happy to trade my employer insurance for Medicare.) In practice, this requires convincing half the country to swap their current insurance for a government plan, and to convert their health-care premiums (which are nontransparent and remitted directly by their employer, reducing their wages only indirectly) into taxes (which are paid directly). Poll after poll shows both these changes turn the abstractly popular notion of broader coverage upside down.
Warren’s strategy is to dodge both objections. She has, in the past, avoided the question of people losing their employer insurance by saying nobody likes their insurance company. . . . On taxes, she changes the question to total cost and refuses to acknowledge that taxes will go up in the swap.
Warren’s admirers consider this dodge to be clever, but the last debate shows just how politically corrosive it could become. The problem is that Sanders, who wrote the damn bill, openly admits taxes would go up.  . . . The contrast between one Medicare for All supporter honestly admitting how the plan would work, and the other one refusing to admit it, did not make her look good. It gave her opponents an opening to cast her as shady, which they seized.
Pete Buttigieg pointed out that Warren’s response was “a yes or no question that didn’t get a yes or no answer.” Biden said, “it’s important to be straightforward with them,” and Amy Klobuchar added, “at least Bernie’s being honest here.” This is not merely a problem of Warren being associated with an unpopular policy. It is a question that is corroding her reputation for honesty, which is a foundation of her outsider, truth-telling brand.
As with Biden, Warren will find the reality that Trump is orders of magnitude worse to be of little value. Republicans have a party-controlled mass-media apparatus that has trained its rank and file to support liars, but the Democrats do not.
If Biden wants to beat Trump, he needs to put more distance between himself and his son. If Warren wants to beat Trump, she needs to ditch Bernie’s health-care plan and come up with one that doesn’t have political poison pills. The question with both candidates is, what steps are they willing to take to win?

Sunday, October 20, 2019

More Sunday Male Beauty

"Texodus" Bodes Badly for Republicans

Like many Republicans who ultimately became "Never Trumpers," for years George Will served as an apologist for many of the forces within the GOP base - e.g., Christofascists and others who would use religion and a perverted version of "religious freedom" as a basis to harm others while grabbing special rights for themselves.  Then, of course, there were the dog whistle racists who paved the way for the outright white supremacists who now comprise a significant portion of the party base. Both of these factions of the GOP base helped hand Trump the nomination and helped him eek out an Electoral College win despite losing the popular vote by 3,000,000 votes. Belatedly, in my view, Will is playing Cassandra for the Texas Republican Party that has grown increasingly extreme and shamelessly panders to racists and the ugliest and often most ignorant elements of the evangelicals in Texas. The problem the Texas GOP faces is what has already happened in Virginia: the population has changed racially, become increasingly suburban, and finds the GOP's racism and religious zealotry disgusting and loathsome.  In a column in the Washington Post, Will warns the Texas GOP to learn the new reality before it is too late.  Here are excerpts:
I am a classically trained engineer,” says Rep. Will Hurd, a Texas Republican . . . . And he sees portents that his blinkered party would be prudent to notice.
Hurd is one of six Texas Republican congressman who have decided not to seek reelection next year. Until this year, none of them had, since 2011, experienced the purgatory of being in the House minority. In the 2018 “Texodus,” five Texas Republican representatives retired (a sixth resigned) and two were defeated. Of the 241 Republicans in the House when President Trump was inaugurated, almost 40 percent are gone or going. See a trend?
His district, which includes 23 percent of Texas’s land and extends from San Antonio’s fringe to New Mexico’s border, is the state’s largest, encompassing all or parts of 29 counties and 820 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border. It is 58,000 square milesalmost as big as Georgia and larger than Illinois and 25 other states. It is 69 percent Hispanic and just 4 percent African American.
Hurd, an articulate, assertive 6-foot-4 former CIA operative and the only African American Republican in the House, thinks voting trends “are moving so fast” that 2020 “has nothing to do with 2016.” Just as “U.S. economic and military dominance are no longer guaranteed,” neither is Republican dominance in Texas, a state that is hardly immune to national trends.
In the 2016 House of Representatives elections, no Republican incumbent from Texas lost . . . In 2018, there were eight losses, and 16 won with less than 55 percent. . . . Nationally, Republicans are decreasingly strong where two generations ago they were especially robust — in suburbs. Texas ranks high among the states in terms of the percentage of the population that is suburban. And statewide, whites are a minority.
In Texas’s most important 2018 contest for a federal office, incumbent Republican Sen. Ted Cruz won by just three. See a trend?
If the Democratic Party can collect Texas’s electoral votes — 38 today, perhaps 41 after the 2020 Census — as well as California’s 55, it will reap 35.5 percent of a winning 270 from just two states. Then the GOP will have almost no plausible path to 270. . . .
And Hurd will repeat what he says today: Texas is “already purple.” Republicans “have to get out of our own way” because “if the Republican Party in Texas does not start looking like Texas, there will not be a Republican Party in Texas.”

LA Times: Undoing the Great Mistake of 2016

In a reasoned main editorial The Los Angeles Times makes the case of why it is absolutely essential that Donald Trump be defeated in 2020 if he manages to avoid removal from office via impeachment thanks to Senate Republicans who have sold their souls to Trump and/or are as morally depraved as he is.  In the tussle to win the Democrat nomination, too many candidates seem to forget that "Medicare for All" and other policy pitches and differences pale in comparison to the most important goal: defeating Trump and hopefully many Republicans along with him.  Here in Virginia, in 16 days Virginians can fire the opening salvo in this repudiation of Trump and everything that he and the Republican Party have come to represent: open racism, religious extremism driven by hate, not the gospels, and, of course greed and envy.  Greed on the part of the wealthy and envy on the part of those who blame others for their poor life choices (including voting for Republicans who have consistently worked against their base's economic best interests and, of course the embrace of ignorance).  In its editorial, the LA Times is too kind to Trump voters, in my view, and says they were "hoodwinked" rather than face the reality that race, religious extremism, and greed and envy were the real motivations behind their votes.   That said, here are editorial highlights:

As the 2020 election approaches, the United States is deeply and bitterly polarized, shaken by acts of random and not-so-random violence, with wages still rising too slowly, income inequality continuing to increase and the American Dream feeling more and more out of reach for too many people. Despite low unemployment and a frothy stock market, voters feel a deep anxiety about the future and a dark anger at the political system.
With just a year to go before election day, global alliances are fraying as the U.S. turns inward. The culture wars are raging on campus and off. For only the fourth time in American history, a U.S. president is being investigated by the U.S. House of Representatives with an eye toward impeachment. Immigrants are being demonized and detained . . . .
Flitting above this chaotic landscape — fomenting, provoking, preening, spewing, tweeting, blustering and bullying — is President Donald Trump, the worst, most dangerous president in modern history.
All presidential elections are uniquely consequential, but a good case can be made that the next one is the most important of our lives. The time has come to undo the great mistake of 2016 and drive Trump out of office at the ballot box. It is time to pull our country out of the illiberal abyss into which it is sinking and put it on a path toward reason and fairness and empathy and constructive engagement with the world.
Voters need to keep their eyes on the prize: defeating Trump state by state, issue by issue, vote by vote in November of next year.
But stopping him is not going to be nearly as easy as common sense says it ought to be. The country is profoundly riven: More than 60 million Americans consciously chose this [narcissistic demagogue]  president over his opponent four years ago. And many voters remain entranced — hoodwinked, in our view — by his blunt, cocky, overpromising style. He may be coddling dictators, selling off the planet to oil, gas and mining interests, cynically stirring racial resentment and animosity toward immigrants, and provoking an angry trade war with a rising China, but his base remains steadily, stubbornly supportive.
Trump is temperamentally unsuited to be president . . . . Lies, threats and empty promises are his weapons of choice; enemies are mocked and belittled while the dumbly obedient are rewarded. Ignorant and incurious, unmoved by reasoned argument, contemptuous of laws and institutions, Trump is in thrall to exactly the special interests you would expect, he is schooled at the university of Fox News, he is on a constant search for adulation and short-term advantage. He must be defeated in November 2020.
[O]n two issues, we hope the [Democrat] candidates will agree: first, that the top priority has to be defeating the incumbent, who is too irresponsible to be allowed another term; and second, that his defeat is only a first step. Even before Trump was elected, the country was divided and the old system wasn’t working. Political paralysis was already on the rise well before November 2016 . . . Anyone who is not convinced of that should just remember the name Merrick Garland.
In this series we will seek to answer some basic questions: What is our brief against President Trump and why is it so important that he be defeated? . . . We’ll begin to look at some of the policy issues arising in the race, we’ll examine the battle between progressives and moderates, and we’ll consider the importance of race and racism in the election. For Californians in particular, whose policies are especially loathed by this president and who have so often felt the brunt of his disdain, this election is supremely important.
Now is no time to watch from the sidelines. Voters must become engaged, learn the issues, choose sides, speak out. Removing Donald Trump from office in November 2020 is absolutely essential — and yet it is by no means a sure thing. So do not sit this one out. Join in, and make America America again.
Trump must be defeated and/or removed from office by any means necessary.  Hopefully, the lazy and indifferent who stayed home and failed to vote in 2016 will not repeat their mistake and will make sure they go to the polls and cast their vote against Trump and Republicans in general.