Saturday, March 28, 2020

Saturday Morning Male Beauty

Rep. Thomas Massie Typifies the Ugliness of Today's Republicans

GOP Rep. Thomas Massie - a monster of the GOP's creation.
Anyone following the $2.2 trillion coronavirus stimulus package knows that Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) opposed the legislation and forced members of the House to physically travel to Washington, D.C. for a roll call vote.  The action was typical of the far right in the GOP that seeks to do nothing but obstruct bipartisan action and to revel in every lunatic conspiracy theory about the mythical "deep state" that purportedly opposes Donald Trump and the GOP's reverse Robin Hood agenda.   The GOP has become unrecognizable from the the party in which I once was an activist and City Committee member - while moving I came across the "Patrick Henry" award I had received from Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore for my support of principled and responsible government - and in which I had been raised. The party's transformation was allowed by party leaders and, in my view, tracks directly to the decision to allow Christofascists to gain seats in city and county committees across America, forcing out sane moderates in the process.  A column in the  Washington Post looks at how the GOP made extremists like Massie main stream in the GOP.  Here are column excerpts:
Republicans were aghast that one of their own had committed such a monstrously selfish act.
Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), in purely symbolic opposition to the $2.2 trillion emergency coronavirus legislation, forced hundreds of his colleagues to risk their lives — literally — by flying back to Washington. So what if many of the lawmakers are elderly and at high risk?
To thwart Massie’s pointless protest, an attempt to force a roll-call vote instead of a simple voice vote, leaders had to summon 216 members to fill the chamber, eerily separated on the floor and in the gallery above to limit infection. This fruitless, immoral gesture by the 49-year-old legislator was in service of another: to thwart a nearly unanimous Congress from dispensing aid to the sick and suffering in the middle of a pandemic.
But if Republicans are disturbed by Massie, they might pause for self-reflection. Massie is the epitome of the anti-government culture they have nurtured and encouraged. He embodies the drain-the-swamp political philosophy they have embraced.
Unanimous consent doesn’t kill the Republic. Unanimity, or at least consensus, is what we need in Washington, and what we have lost. Massie and scores like him in the congressional GOP exist to break up consensus, to throw sand in the gears, to hobble government. Maybe Massie’s antics in this moment of national crisis will help Republicans remember that the government they’ve been demonizing is the only thing they have to save a collapsing national economy and stop a deadly disease.
Massie, a believer in the “deep state” conspiracy, is a product of the tea party, a protege of Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and a collaborator with outgoing Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), who is becoming Trump’s chief of staff, when they tried to oust then-Speaker John Boehner. “I’m ready to be unpopular,” Massie said after his 2012 election, and he has opposed even anti-lynching and human rights legislation — and celebrated when he uses “the process” so that “things die.”
He is emblematic of the newer Republicans who congressional scholars Norman Ornstein and Thomas Mann say have turned the GOP into an “insurgent outlier," rewarding bomb-throwers and making compromise with Democrats all but impossible.
Massie, he said, “is a monster created by their deliberate attempt to get people to have contempt for government and institutions that are part of government.” That contempt gave rise to Trump, but it also remade the Republican caucus in Congress.
Massie boasts that Trump named him a co-chair of his reelection campaign in Kentucky, and Trump has retweeted Massie and said that Massie is “doing a great job” and is “so good.”
No longer. Some on both sides complained about flaws in the legislation during Friday’s debate. And there’s much in the bill to dislike; particularly outrageous is the decision to give the District of Columbia only about $500 million, while less populous and less affected states each get $1.2 billion. But the alternative to the hard-fought compromise — doing nothing — was unthinkable. Massie’s protest served only to turn the House chamber into a petri dish.
Republicans may be spared the question of what to do with Massie, who has a serious primary challenger. But what about all the other Massies in their ranks?
With luck, Massie’s ugly spectacle, and the exploding public health and economic crises, will cause Republicans to see the limits of their corrosive message that government is the enemy.

Sadly, I doubt that Massie's stunt will cause any Republicans to rethink their toxic, obstructionist agenda.

Friday, March 27, 2020

The Road to Coronavirus Hell Was Paved by Evangelicals

Trump and evangelical "faith leaders" charlatans.
A piece in the New York Times follows on the theme of this morning's post that looks at the toxic influence evangelicals Christians have on the Trump/Pence regime and the danger that the evangelical driven embrace of ignorance and science denial poses to the larger public. In addition to pandering to his Christofascist base through statements and policies, Trump has filled many high level positions with individuals who are utterly unfit simply because they embrace the evangelicals anti-knowledge, anti-government agenda.  This unqualified appointments range from the current head of the Department of Health and human Services, to the Secretary of Education, to Housing and Urban Development. Add to this cuts in funding to agencies that evangelicals view as hostile to the Bronze Age belief system and it adds up to a disaster as we now see unfolding in the form of America's lack of preparedness to the COVID-19 pandemic.  Here are highlights from the Times piece:
Donald Trump rose to power with the determined assistance of a movement that denies science, bashes government and prioritized loyalty over professional expertise. In the current crisis, we are all reaping what that movement has sown.
At least since the 19th century, when the proslavery theologian Robert Lewis Dabney attacked the physical sciences as “theories of unbelief,” hostility to science has characterized the more extreme forms of religious nationalism in the United States. Today, the hard core of climate deniers is concentrated among people who identify as religiously conservative Republicans. And some leaders of the Christian nationalist movement, like those allied with the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, which has denounced environmental science as a “Cult of the Green Dragon,” cast environmentalism as an alternative — and false — theology.
This denial of science and critical thinking among religious ultraconservatives now haunts the American response to the coronavirus crisis. On March 15, Guillermo Maldonado, who calls himself an “apostle” and hosted Mr. Trump earlier this year at a campaign event at his Miami megachurch, urged his congregants to show up for worship services in person. “Do you believe God would bring his people to his house to be contagious with the virus? Of course not,” he said.
Rodney Howard-Browne of The River at Tampa Bay Church in Florida mocked people concerned about the disease as “pansies” and insisted he would only shutter the doors to his packed church “when the rapture is taking place.” In a sermon that was live-streamed on Facebook, Tony Spell, a pastor in Louisiana, said, “We’re also going to pass out anointed handkerchiefs to people who may have a fear, who may have a sickness and we believe that when those anointed handkerchiefs go, that healing virtue is going to go on them as well.”
Trump’s tendency to trust his gut over the experts on issues like vaccines and climate change does not come from any deep-seated religious conviction. But he is perfectly in tune with the religious nationalists who form the core of his base. In his daily briefings from the White House, Mr. Trump actively disdains and contradicts the messages coming from his own experts and touts as yet unproven cures.
Not every pastor is behaving recklessly, of course, and not every churchgoer in these uncertain times is showing up for services out of disregard for the scientific evidence. . . . . But Mr. Trump did not invoke Easter by accident, and many of his evangelical allies were pleased by his vision of “packed churches all over our country.”
Religious nationalism has brought to American politics the conviction that our political differences are a battle between absolute evil and absolute good. . . . Only a heroic leader, free from the scruples of political correctness, can save the righteous from the damned. Fealty to the cause is everything; fidelity to the facts means nothing. Perhaps this is why many Christian nationalist leaders greeted the news of the coronavirus as an insult to their chosen leader.
In an interview on March 13 on “Fox & Friends,” Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of Liberty University, called the response to Coronavirus “hype” and “overreacting.” “You know, impeachment didn’t work, and the Mueller report didn’t work, and Article 25 didn’t work, and so maybe now this is their next, ah, their next attempt to get Trump,” he said.
When Rev. Spell in Louisiana defied an order from Gov. John Bel Edwards and hosted in-person services for over 1,000 congregants, he asserted the ban was “politically motivated.” Figures like the anti-L.G.B.T. activist Steve Hotze added to the chorus, denouncing the concern as — you guessed it — “fake news.”
One of the first casualties of fact-free hyper-partisanship is competence in government. The incompetence of the Trump administration in grappling with this crisis is by now well known, at least among those who receive actual news. . . . Less well known is the contribution of the Christian nationalist movement in ensuring that our government is in the hands of people who appear to be incapable of running it well.
Consider the case of Alex Azar, who as secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services has had a prominent role in mismanaging the crisis. It seems likely at this point that Mr. Azar’s signature achievement will have been to rebrand his department as the “Department of Life.” Or maybe he will be remembered for establishing a division of Conscience and Religious Freedom, designed to permit health care providers to deny legal and often medically indicated health care services to certain patients as a matter of religious conscience.
Mr. Azar, a “cabinet sponsor” of Capitol Ministries, the Bible study group attended by multiple members of Mr. Trump’s cabinet, brought with him to Health and Human Services an immovable conviction in the righteousness of the pharmaceutical industry (presumably formed during his five-year stint as an executive and lobbyist in the business), a willingness to speak in the most servile way about “the courage” and “openness to change” of Mr. Trump, and a commitment to anti-abortion politics, abstinence education and other causes of the religious right. What he did not bring, evidently, was any notable ability to manage a pandemic.
It is fair to point out that the failings of the Trump administration in the current pandemic are at least as attributable to its economic ideology as they are to its religious inclinations. When the so-called private sector is supposed to have the answer to every problem, it’s hard to deal effectively with the very public problem of a pandemic and its economic consequences. But if you examine the political roots of the life-threatening belief in the privatization of everything, you’ll see that Christian nationalism played a major role in creating and promoting the economic foundations of America’s incompetent response to the pandemic.
For decades, Christian nationalist leaders have lined up with the anti-government, anti-tax agenda not just as a matter of politics but also as a matter of theology. Ken Blackwell of the Family Research Council, one of the Christian right’s major activist groups, has gone so far as to cast food stamps and other forms of government assistance for essential services as contrary to the “biblical model.”
When a strong centralized response is needed from the federal government, it doesn’t help to have an administration that has never believed in a federal government serving the public good. Ordinarily, the consequences of this kind of behavior don’t show up for some time. In the case of a pandemic, the consequences are too obvious to ignore.
 Evangelicals pose a clear and present danger not only to constitutional government, but also to the health and safety of the majority of Americans.  Their influence needs to be defeated and they need to be cast out into the political wilderness.

More Friday Male Beauty

Friday Morning Male Beauty

Trump Courts Evangelicals With Easter Reopening Goal

At a time when the advice of medical experts should predominate, Donald Trump continues to put politics first and panders to the science and knowledge denying elements of his base: evangelical Christians.  Hence Trump's arbitrary choice of Easter as the date he wants to end social distancing and to "reopen the economy."  While never mentioned, Easter - along with Christmas - are the dates when churches typically make their biggest haul in cash donations and, since religion is first and foremost a business motivated by money and control, missing out on the usual Easter surge in donations, pastors and scamvangelists worry about the financial hit they will take.  Trump and his Christofascist supporters may be talking about the symbolism of an Easter "reopening," but the real motivations are (i) money, and (ii)  keeping the evangelical "leaders" happy.  The move , if pursued, would be reckless and endanger lives. The good news is that so-called Nones and sensible Christians would likely avoid crowded church services setting the stage for Darwin's theory to play out among the "godly folk."  Here are highlights from Huffington Post:

Donald Trump’s “beautiful” idea to reopen the U.S. economy by Easter Sunday and pack church pews that day was dreamed up during a conference call among business leaders desperate to get the country back up and running.
But his target date for easing coronavirus restrictions is another outstretched hand to a group he has long courted: evangelical Christians.
Cooped up at the White House and watching the stock market tumble, Trump had already been eager to ease federal guidelines aimed at halting the spread of a virus that had infected more than 55,000 Americans when about a dozen business leaders convened a conference call on Sunday.
“There was a concern — not unanimity, but consensus — that you had to have a reopening of the economy at some point soon,” said Stephen Moore, a conservative economist and informal Trump adviser. On the call, Moore said, he argued in favor of setting a specific date as a goal by which point the economy could gradually begin to be reopened.
Though it’s unclear exactly when the idea made its way to Trump or whether others in his orbit had pegged the date as well — one official said they had heard the idea mentioned multiple times around the Oval Office — by late Sunday, Trump was publicly siding with such thinking, tweeting: “WE CANNOT LET THE CURE BE WORSE THAN THE PROBLEM ITSELF.” On Monday, he said he was considering easing his administration’s recommendations that Americans largely stay home within weeks, not months. And on Tuesday, he formally endorsed the idea of an Easter goalpost during a Fox News Channel virtual town hall.
“Easter’s a very special day for me. Wouldn’t it be great to have all of the churches full?” Trump later told Fox. “You’ll have packed churches all over our country. I think it would be a beautiful time.”
The idea drew alarm from many public health experts, who noted that even New York — thought to be several weeks ahead of the rest of the nation — has yet to reach its peak in infections. . . . But for conservative evangelicals who remain among Trump’s most ardent supporters, the president’s choice of the holiest date on their faith’s calendar was meaningful even as a purely aspirational goal to reboot American life.
Ralph Reed, a veteran GOP activist and Trump ally who chairs the Faith & Freedom Coalition, cautioned that restrictions shouldn’t be eased “if it’s a bad idea from a public health standpoint,” but also welcomed the Easter target. . . . Reed said, “because I think it would be symbolic, it would be significant, it would be inspirational.”
Even if Trump were to ease federal guidelines, states across the country, from California to New York, have already put in place a patchwork of rules to try to halt the virus’ spread. The administration has so far said it has no plans to try to overrule local restrictions.
The White House, meanwhile, has been holding calls with those who might publicly back its plans, including conservative allies of the president. Reed said he was among two dozen allies who participated in one call Tuesday with Vice President Mike Pence.
Three separate faith outreach calls, including one that drew more than 1,200 allies, were held last week alone.
Pastor Tony Suarez, another evangelical Trump ally, said he hopes the Easter target can be achieved, to “celebrate a national resurrection and an economic resurrection as we celebrate the Resurrection.”
But even among white evangelicals who are a key component of the president’s political base, there were reservations. . . . described the president’s elevation of that date as a fresh signal of the “respect within the administration for the word of God and for Christian faith.”
Among those signals, Suarez noted, was Pence’s call during a Saturday briefing by the coronavirus task force he leads for Americans to keep donating to their local ministries when most houses of worship have moved their services online.
It is ultimately, all about money and pandering to those who deny science and modern knowledge.  Be afraid.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

More Thursday Male Beauty

Trump Lacks the Qualities to Lead in a Time of Crisis

Driving home the last few nights I have had the disturbing experience of hearing portions Donald Trump's press conferences on the coronavirus pandemic - press conferences filled lies, untruths and insane boasting by Trump.  After  five minutes or less I find myself changing the channel or hitting "disc" to switch to a CD rather than listen to the batshitery.  The crisis continues to underscore Trump's unfitness to lead the nation in this time of crisis particularly given Trump's mental state and self-absorption.  A piece in The Atlantic looks at how Trump may yet be undone by this crisis which he will find hard to blame on others. If the death toll and number of infected continue to rise, Trump will find it increasingly impossible to shriek "fake news" and blame the media for the objective reality that will be all to stark for Americans to see with their own eyes.   Here are are article highlights: 
For his entire adult life, and for his entire presidency, Donald Trump has created his own alternate reality, complete with his own alternate set of facts. He has shown himself to be erratic, impulsive, narcissistic, vindictive, cruel, mendacious, and devoid of empathy. None of that is new.
But we’re now entering the most dangerous phase of the Trump presidency. The pain and hardship that the United States is only beginning to experience stem from a crisis that the president is utterly unsuited to deal with, either intellectually or temperamentally. When things were going relatively well, the nation could more easily absorb the costs of Trump’s psychological and moral distortions and disfigurements. But those days are behind us. The coronavirus pandemic has created the conditions that can catalyze a destructive set of responses from an individual with Trump’s characterological defects and disordered personality.
We are now in the early phase of a medical and economic tempest unmatched in most of our lifetimes. There’s too much information we don’t have. We don’t know the full severity of the pandemic, or whether a state like New York is a harbinger or an outlier. But we have enough information to know this virus is rapidly transmissible and lethal.
The qualities we most need in a president during this crisis are calmness, wisdom, and reassurance; a command of the facts and the ability to communicate them well; and the capacity to think about the medium and long term while carefully weighing competing options and conflicting needs. We need a leader who can persuade the public to act in ways that are difficult but necessary, who can focus like a laser beam on a problem for a sustained period of time, and who will listen to—and, when necessary, defer to—experts who know far more than he does. We need a president who can draw the nation together rather than drive it apart, who excels at the intricate work of governing, and who works well with elected officials at every level. We need a chief executive whose judgment is not just sound, but exceptional.
There are some 325 million people in America, and it’s hard to think of more than a handful who are more lacking in these qualities than Donald Trump.
But we need to consider something else, which is that the coronavirus pandemic may lead to a rapid and even more worrisome psychological and emotional deterioration in the commander in chief. This is not a certainty, but it’s a possibility we need to be prepared for.
Here’s how this might play out; to some extent, it already has.
Let’s start with what we know. Someone with Trump’s psychological makeup, when faced with facts and events that are unpleasant, that he perceives as a threat to his self-image and public standing, simply denies them. We saw that repeatedly during the early part of the pandemic, when the president was giving false reassurance and spreading false information one day after another.
After a few days in which he was willing to acknowledge the scope and scale of this crisis—he declared himself a “wartime president”—he has now regressed to type, once again becoming a fountain of misinformation. At a press conference yesterday, he declared that he “would love to have the country opened up, and just raring to go, by Easter,” which is less than three weeks away, a goal that top epidemiologists and health professionals believe would be catastrophic.
As one person who consults with the Trump White House on the coronavirus response put it to me, “He has chosen to imagine the worst is behind us when the worst is clearly ahead of us.”
After listening to the president’s nearly-two-hour briefing on Monday—in which, among other things, Trump declared, “If it were up to the doctors, they may say … ‘Let’s shut down the entire world.’ … This could create a much bigger problem than the problem that you start off with”—a former White House adviser who has worked on past pandemics told me, “This fool will bring the death of thousands needlessly. We have mobilized as a country to shut things down for a time, despite the difficulty. We can work our way back to a semblance of normality if we hold out and let the health system make it through the worst of it.” He added, “But now our own president is undoing all that work and preaching recklessness. Rather than lead us in taking on a difficult challenge, he is dragging us toward failure and suffering. Beyond belief.”
YES AND NO. The thing to understand about Donald Trump is that putting others before self is not something he can do, even temporarily. His attempts to convey facts that don’t serve his perceived self-interest or to express empathy are forced, scripted, and always short-lived, since such reactions are alien to him.
This president does not have the capacity to listen to, synthesize, and internalize information that does not immediately serve his greatest needs: praise, fealty, adoration. “He finds it intolerable when those things are missing,” a clinical psychologist told me. “Praise, applause, and accolades seem to calm him and boost his confidence. There’s no room for that now, and so he’s growing irritable and needing to create some way to get some positive attention.”
She added that the pandemic and its economic fallout “overwhelm Trump’s capacity to understand, are outside of his ability to internalize and process, and [are] beyond his frustration tolerance. He is neither curious nor interested; facts are tossed aside when inconvenient or [when they] contradict his parallel reality, and people are disposable unless they serve him in some way.”
IT’S USEFUL HERE to recall that Trump’s success as a politician has been built on his ability to impose his will and narrative on others, to use his experience on a reality-television show and his skill as a con man to shape public impressions in his favor, even—or perhaps, especially—if those impressions are at odds with reality. 
But in this instance, Trump isn’t facing a political problem he can easily spin his way out of. He’s facing a lethal virus. It doesn’t give a damn what Donald Trump thinks of it or tweets about it. Spin and lies about COVID-19, including that it will soon magically disappear, as Trump claimed it would, don’t work. In fact, they have the opposite effect. Misinformation will cause the virus to increase its deadly spread.
But what happens to Trump psychologically and emotionally when things don’t turn around in the time period he wants? What happens if the tricks that have allowed him to walk away from scandal after scandal don’t work quite so well, if the doors of escape are bolted shut, and if it dawns on even some of his supporters—people who will watch family members, friends, and neighbors contract the disease, some number of whom will die—that no matter what Trump says, he can’t alter this epidemiological reality?
All of this would likely enrage him, and feed his paranoia.
As the health-care and economic crises worsen, Trump’s hallmarks will be even more fully on display. [Trump] The president will create new scapegoats. He’ll blame governors for whatever bad news befalls their states. He’ll berate reporters who ask questions that portray him in a less-than-favorable light. He’ll demand even more cultlike coverage from outlets such as Fox News. Because he doesn’t tolerate relationships that are characterized by disagreement or absence of obeisance, before long we’ll see key people removed or silenced when they try to counter a Trump-centered narrative. He’ll try to find shiny objects to divert our attention from his failures.
But there’s something distinct about this moment, compared with every other moment in the Trump presidency, that could prove to be utterly disorienting and unsettling for the president. Hush-money payments won’t make COVID-19 go away. He cannot distract people from the global pandemic. He can’t wait it out until the next news cycle, because the next news cycle will also be about the pandemic. He can’t easily create another narrative, because he is often sharing the stage with scientists who will not lie on his behalf.
The president will try to blame someone else—but in this case the “someone else” is a virus, not a Mexican immigrant or a reporter with a disability, not a Muslim or a Clinton, not a dead war hero or a family of a fallen soldier, not a special counsel or an NFL player who kneels for the national anthem. He will try to use this crisis to pit one party against the other—but the virus will kill both Republicans and Democrats. He will try to create an alternate story to distract people from an inconvenient truth—but in this case, the public is too afraid, the story is too big, and the carnage will be too great to be distracted from it.
America will make it to the other side of this crisis, as it has after every other crisis. But the struggle will be a good deal harder, and the human cost a good deal higher, because we elected as president a man who is so damaged and so broken in so many ways.

Thursday Morning Male Beauty

Few Voters Think Trump Cares About "People Like Me"

I continue to be shocked by how lacking in intelligence many Americans appear to be - like the supposed 49% who think Donald Trump is doing a "good job" handling the coronavirus crisis.  How can this be when some news outlets are beginning to cease coverage of his press conferences because they are so filled with lies and untruths.  Meanwhile, Trump wants to end social distancing perhaps by the end of net week to spur on the economy even though medical experts say this could lead to a large number of deaths. The only positive news is that Americans as a whole are coming to realize that Trump cares nothing for what these citizens would describe as "people like me."    A piece in the Washington Post looks at this realization that is long, long overdue.  Trump may pander to the racism and/or religious extremism of his base, but he cares nothing about them as living, breathing people.  Here are article highlights:

As both a presidential candidate and president, Donald Trump has been said to have a special connection to “ordinary Americans” or “average Americans” while his “elitist” opponents are said to look down on them.
Of course, Trump’s fame and wealth make him as much an elite as, say, the party’s previous presidential nominee, Mitt Romney. But Romney was widely derided as an out-of-touch plutocrat, a characterization that squared with decades of polling on voter beliefs about the class interests of GOP politicians. Trump, by contrast, was called “the people’s billionaire” and credited for his populist appeal, . . . .
But three years into his presidency, most Americans do not perceive Trump as particularly concerned about the middle class, the poor or people like them. They do see him as concerned about the wealthy, however. In fact, Trump is perceived no differently than Romney was at the end of the 2012 presidential campaign. Instead, it is Trump’s likely Democratic opponent, Joe Biden, who is more widely perceived as sympathetic to the middle class. A president who once seemed ready to remake the GOP brand has been recast in its image — and that could have consequences for his reelection.
One way to show how voters perceive the interests of politicians is to ask Americans how well different leaders are described by the phrases “cares about the wealthy,” “cares about the middle class,” “cares about the poor” and “cares about people like me.” When respondents were asked these questions about Romney in a YouGov survey conducted right before Election Day in 2012, 88 percent said that “cares about the wealthy” described Romney somewhat well or very well.
By contrast, 56 percent of Americans thought that Obama cared about the wealthy. Compared to Romney, more said that Obama cared about the middle class (57 percent), the poor (61 percent) and “people like me” (54 percent). In 2016, it looked as if Trump might be different than Romney. . . . . But as of today, Trump does not look much different than Romney did. In a March 2020 Democracy Fund-UCLA Nationscape survey, the vast majority of Americans (83 percent) said that Trump cares about the wealthy — many more than said he cares about the middle class (45 percent), poor (38 percent), and “people like me” (40 percent). Indeed, 74 percent of independents and even 23 percent of Republicans said that Trump did not care about “people like me.” If anything, Americans may see Trump as less in touch with ordinary Americans than Romney was. Meanwhile, many fewer Americans view Biden and especially Sanders as sympathetic to the wealthy (61 percent and 41 percent, respectively). More Americans describe them as sympathetic to the middle class, the poor, and people like me. These differences in how Americans perceive Democratic and Republican candidates reflect broader images of the two political parties. Early on, it appeared that Trump could change the GOP’s image. In his speech announcing his candidacy, he famously promised to protect Social Security and Medicare, which are crucial to many Americans of modest means. But Trump has governed much like a traditional Republican. The tax law he signed gave the largest tax breaks to the wealthy. His administration has proposed changes that could reduce the number of poor people eligible for Medicaid and for food stamps. He has even flirted with cuts to Medicare and Social Security, . . . . Today Trump embodies the GOP’s long-standing image as the party of the rich. The likely economic devastation caused by the coronavirus complicates Trump’s ability to claim, as he did in his State of the Union address barely two months ago, that we were in the midst of a “blue-collar boom.”
And Trump’s struggle to communicate sympathy for people with the virus or fearful of its effects makes it difficult for him to project a different image as a leader. Democrats were already arguing that, as Biden put it, Trump has “no empathy” for the middle class. That line of attack may be even more tempting if the virus and ensuing recession continue to wreak havoc in the lives of ordinary Americans.
[P]erceptions of the presidential candidates’ empathy are no magical predictor of who will win the election. . . . . But public perception of Trump matters whether he wins or loses in November. The apparent fragility of his populist image shows how even politicians who appear to be “outsiders” flouting the norms and orthodoxies of their political party struggle to escape long-standing party stereotypes.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Wednesday Morning Male Beauty

The Far-Right Media Is Weaponizing Coronavirus

I continue to be shocked by those I know who ought to know better that continue to post and share false stories put out by right wing fringe publications like Breitbart, the Daily Caller, Red State, Town Hall, and, of course, Fox News.  These individuals seemingly never fact check stories and merely promote them because they fall in line with their prejudices - often racial or religiously extreme - and happily spread falsehoods while making themselves look like fools and/or bigots.  Now, with coronavirus creating semi-hysteria and fears and uncertainty, the right wing media machine is jumping into high gear and promoting falsehoods and out right misogyny as laid out in a piece in New York Magazine.  For "friends" who continue to promote false stories, they need to know that others are watching and judging them and not in a good way.   Here are article excerpts:
The coronavirus pandemic has been marked by medical uncertainty, rapidly changing information, and partisan rancor, making it a prime target for the spread of disinformation: some of that disinformation is about unproven cures, for both the disease and the disintegrating economy; some is intended to delegitimize the politicians who may or may not be in a position to steer the nation through it (and some of it comes not via the internet but from [Trump] the president himself; see the man who died after heeding Trump’s assurances that chloroquine was a possible answer to coronavirus). Jiore Craig is a political consultant at a research firm, GQR Insights and Action, who has spent the past four years tracking the spread of disinformation online, much of it originating with, or being propagated by, the far-right political media — sites like Breitbart and Infowars. The Cut spoke to her about the patterns she’s seen and how they’re playing out in the midst of this pandemic. [W]e study conservative bad actors, those known for putting out disinformation, and what’s been interesting in the midst of COVID-19 is that even they needed to take a moment to get their bearings. Typically bad actors on the right — conservative online media which rampantly spreads disinformation — are very quick to align, and get their messaging straight, which usually comes down to reaching for handy attacks, targeting women, etc. But in this moment, it took a while for them to turn their cannons in the same direction. Obviously there’s Fox News, but I’m talking about more specialized online publications, like Breitbart, the Daily Caller, Red State, Town Hall, and people like Ben Shapiro and Tomi Lahren. There’s something called Salem Media Group; they control niche Facebook pages like I Am A Conservative Woman and Shut Down Planned Parenthood, and the social network only recently identified that both of those pages were controlled by Salem. I focus on what’s being shared on Facebook and other platforms where the majority of voters are spending their time. We know that Facebook increasingly has an older audience, so I look at what’s spreading there.
 [T]hose pages I mentioned often coordinate; they’re posting at the same time and coordinating around specific attacks, and one area where they do that is attacks on women. And there is a good example involving coronavirus. When Trump called out individual politicians, including governors like Michigan’s Gretchen Whitmer, it was very easy for these sites to use a typical framing right away: an unflattering picture of her, where she looks drunk or cross-eyed, or appears dumb, crazy, emotional, unhinged, angry. The sites are ready to echo each other, and so they amplified an attack on Whitmer more than they amplified attacks on other male governors that Trump got into fights with last week. Now part of that is that Whitmer is in a swing state, while Andrew Cuomo, for example, is not. But it’s also that those misogynistic frames are so readily available to them.
They’re very organized, very militant: they will push out the same line as a steady drum beat— the same hashtags, #shiftySchiff or #nervousNancy, to signal that there’s a trend — whereas voices on the left are more individualistic.
So now with Coronavirus, they’ve landed on attacking the left about “PC culture” — arguing that the left is more worried about the racist phrasing Trump uses for the virus than about the virus itself. That’s an example of something they’ve unified on since last week, because they know this playbook; they know how to attack the left on PC culture; they can run with that.
[W]henever we see a social media spike that isn’t correlated with what’s happening in the news and wonder what’s driving that, it’s something that is driven by the right. I still think people underestimate how wide-reaching these pages are and how good they are at repetition. The second part is, how much of what is published online from the right is connected back to pretty extreme movements. I wasn’t expecting my work — which is typically to deal with candidates and how opinions about them are formed — to get so quickly into hate speech, man-o-spheres, intense online misogyny. . . . . the reality is that this is what the mainstream is now on the right. The conservative media I mentioned earlier, which some may consider fringe, have become more mainstream on social media in terms of the volume of content they generate and their reach. W]e’re going to see a lot of conspiracy theories being applied. But the bad actors don’t really know who to attack at the moment; it can’t quite be about government control, because Trump is the government. So there’s going to be a question of how to make it about the Democrats: maybe invoking false claims around martial law. You have Alex Jones and Infowars profiting off of readiness products because people are scared. We may get to the conspiracy that Democrats want to take away their guns and take away their rights. And I think both sides will start asking: Were you focused on people’s health or were you focused on politics-or-profits? Both sides will try to make it seem like the other side isn’t focused on the issue at hand.

Times of crisis show us who remains logical and acting on facts, not conspiracy theories and lies (and prejudices and bigotry), and  some who are blinding promoting far right disinformation should pause to consider how they will be viewed once the crisis has passed.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

More Tuesday Male Beauty

U.S Governors Reject Trump’s Dangerous Coronavirus Timeline

A recent post looked at Donald Trump's desperate desire to end social distancing and to send all Americans back to work to improve his re-election chances come November.  Boosting the stock market and keeping the economy from retracting is more important to Trump than the lives of American citizens.  Since we have a self-absorbed sociopath in the White House it is encouraging that a majority of the nation's governors are rejecting Trump's "imaginary timeline" to quote Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican.  Meanwhile, Hogan, Governor Northam of Virginia and the Mayor of Washington, D.C., announced a joint regional response to the COVID-19 crisis.  A piece in Huffington Post looks at the adults in the room saying "no" to the petulant child's foolish statements.  (An exception to common sense and sanity -Texas’ lieutenant governor, Dan Patrick who said grandparents are willing to die to support the economy)  Here are article highlights:
Governors across the nation on Tuesday rejected President Donald Trump’s new accelerated timeline for reopening the U.S. economy, as they continued to impose more restrictions on travel and public life in an attempt to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
The dismissal of Trump’s mid-April timeframe for a national reopening came from Republicans and Democrats, from leaders struggling to manage hot spots of the outbreak and those still bracing for the worst. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, the head of the National Governors Association and a Republican, called the messaging confusing since most leaders are still focused on enforcing the restrictions, not easing them. He accused the White House of running on a schedule made of some “imaginary clock.”
The pushback suggests Trump’s talk of an early reboot is unlikely to gain traction. In most cases, it’s state leaders — not the federal government — who are responsible for both imposing and lifting the stay-at-home orders and other restrictions intended to stop the contagion.
But the governors’ reaction also revealed the striking disconnect and growing tensions between Trump and the state leaders closer to the front lines of a crisis that threatens to overwhelm U.S. hospitals and claim thousands of lives.
As soon as next week, Trump wants to take another look at recommendations about business closures and self-isolation, and said Tuesday the country could reopen by Easter Sunday — less than a month away. “Our people want to return to work,” he said.
But governors suggested that view had little connection to the reality they’re facing. California Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom said he and Trump are “clearly operating under a different set of assumptions.” California, home to 40 million people and the world’s fifth-largest economy, reported hundreds of new known cases of COVID 19 and now has more than 2,200, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.
In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday said the infection rate was doubling every three days and pleaded for more federal help as the number of cases in the state surpassed 20,000.
Even some of Trump’s usual allies are continuing to move ahead with tighter controls on travel, commerce and mobility, despite the president’s words. In Texas, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has endorsed stay-at-home orders that continued to spread through the biggest cities. Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey said public health needed to come first, and South Dakota Gov. Krisiti Noem is stressing limiting business activity, not relaxing them. Among the few statehouse leaders to publicly endorse Trump’s view was Texas’ lieutenant governor, Dan Patrick, 69, who on Monday suggested that people his age and older can “take care of ourselves ” as the nation gets back to work. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says people over 65 are at higher risk for the disease. Hogan, the Maryland governor, told CNN. “We don’t think that we’re going to be in any way ready to be out of this in five or six days or so, or whenever this 15 days is up from the time that they started this imaginary clock.”

Tuesday Morning Male Beauty

Saving American Lives or Propping Up Business: Trump Prefers the Later

An empty Times Square.
As various states are increasingly clamping down and closing business interests - Virginia tightened restriction as of midnight last night - in the hope of containing the COVID-19 virus and avoiding the nightmare playing out in New York City - actions condoned by medical experts - Donald Trump appears poised to loosen restrictions on public gatherings and business closures.  Why?  Because he fears a deep and/or prolonged recession will kill his chances of re-election.  Race baiting and xenophobic behavior may not be enough to rally his base if they are dying financially.  In Trump's mind, thousands of perhaps avoidable deaths of Americans is a small price to pay to help his re-election effort.  It's another example of why doesn't elect a malignant narcissist who has zero empathy for anyone to the White House.  A piece in the New York Times and one at CNN look at Trump's likely disregard for the warnings of medical experts.  For Trump supporters who think he gives a rat's ass about their very lives, they should perhaps open their eyes and think again.  First this from the Times piece:
As the United States entered Week 2 of trying to contain the spread of the coronavirus by shuttering large swaths of the economy, President Trump, Wall Street executives and many conservative economists began questioning whether the government had gone too far and should instead lift restrictions that are already inflicting deep pain on workers and businesses.
Consensus continues to grow among government leaders and health officials that the best way to defeat the virus is to order nonessential businesses to close and residents to confine themselves at home. Britain, after initially resisting such measures, essentially locked down its economy on Monday, as did the governors of Virginia, Michigan and Oregon.
Relaxing those restrictions could significantly increase the death toll from the virus, public health officials warn. Many economists say there is no positive trade-off — resuming normal activity prematurely would only strain hospitals and result in even more deaths, while exacerbating a recession that has most likely already arrived.
The economic shutdown is causing damage that is only beginning to appear in official data. Morgan Stanley researchers said on Monday that they now expected the economy to shrink by an annualized rate of 30 percent in the second quarter of this year, and the unemployment rate to jump to nearly 13 percent. Both would be records, in modern economic statistics.
Mr. Trump and a chorus of conservative voices have begun to suggest that the shock to the economy could hurt the country more than deaths from the virus.
On Monday, Mr. Trump said his administration would reassess whether to keep the economy shuttered after the initial 15-day period ends next Monday, saying it could extend another week and that certain parts of the country could reopen sooner than others, depending on the extent of infections.
Any push to loosen the new limits on commerce and movement would contradict the consensus advice of public health officials, risking a surge in infections and deaths from the virus. Many economists warn that abruptly reopening the economy could backfire, overwhelming an already stressed health care system, sowing uncertainty among consumers, and ultimately dealing deeper, longer-lasting damage to growth.
The recent rise of cases in Hong Kong, after there had been an easing of the spread of the virus, is something of an object lesson about how ending strict measures too soon can have dangerous consequences. Yet places like China, which took the idea of lockdown to the extreme, have managed to flatten the curve.
The piece at CNN looks at this issue as well and what may be Trump's motivations which have lettle to do with reducing the death toll.  Here are excerpts:
President Donald Trump appears to have made his choice in the awful dilemma posed by the coronavirus pandemic -- whether to destroy the nation's economic foundation in order to save lives.
In his zeal to fire up American prosperity after helping to trigger an unprecedented self-inflicted economic meltdown, Trump is already losing patience -- weeks before the virus may peak. His comments came on day when the number of confirmed cases soared past 40,000 and 100 people died in a single day for the first time. Dr. Deborah Birx, a member of Trump's coronavirus task force, warned that the "attack rate" of the disease in New York, America's dominant economic and financial powerhouse, was five times that of elsewhere. Trump's change of emphasis previewed a building confrontation inside his own administration -- between public health officials using the science of epidemiology to battle Covid-19 and political and economic officials desperate to save an economy that is fundamental to basic life and Trump's reelection hopes.
[Trump's] The President's upbeat prediction of a return to full speed ahead directly contradicted the actions of state governors nationwide -- who are imposing stay-at-home orders, closing businesses and ordering schools out for summer in March.
Local and public health authorities fear the highly contagious virus will cause a tsunami of critically ill patients that will swamp hospitals and mean people will die in the thousands.
The idea that the situation will stabilize in a few weeks -- when most experts say that much, much worse is to come -- appears fanciful. This raises the question of whether Trump is willing to take a decision that could indirectly cause many deaths but that could save millions of other Americans from the deprivations brought on by economic blight. Trump's course change -- after warning last week the shutdown could last until July or August -- was consistent with the scattershot way in which he has managed the coronavirus pandemic.
He spent weeks denying it was a serious problem, predicting it could simply go away and was not much worse than the flu. It was noticeable Monday that Trump was talking about the virus in the past tense. . . . And he went back to comparing Covid-19 to the seasonal flu even though it is far more virulent, has a far higher death rate and has no vaccine. Then he borrowed an argument being made by conservative commentators.
"You look at automobile accidents, which are far greater than any numbers we're talking about. That doesn't mean we're going to tell everybody no more driving of cars. So we have to do things to get our country open," Trump said. Trump's apparent impatience, only days after declaring war on the virus, raises questions about the depth of his thinking and his own motivations given the importance of a strong economy to his reelection campaign. And his sudden lurches make it more difficult to unite the nation behind him in the grim fight.
This would not be the first time that Trump has been influenced by conservative news chatter or that his personal political goals might weigh heavily on his thinking.

A strong economy will mean nothing if one or one's loved ones are dead.  Once again, Trump puts his personal interests ahead of the lives of citizens.  Sadly, no one should be surprised. 

Monday, March 23, 2020

More Monday Male Beauty

Why Democrats Are Opposing the Senate GOP Stimulus Bills

Throughout the day I have seen numerous "conservatives," political liars and blowhards like Mitch McConnell, and right wing media outlets railing against Senate Democrats for "obstructing" the bail out needed to protect America's economy.  Some have forwarded outright lies as to why Democrats will not rubber stamp a huge bailouts to corporations which would then be free to fire employees while maintain obscene levels of CEO pay. One example of such blatant lies - that the usual suspects on Facebook jumped on without any fact checking - was that Nancy Pelosi was trying to tie abortion issues to the bill. It simply was a bald face lie that the right wing media echo chamber repeated.  A piece in New York Magazine lays out the real point of disagreement and also shows how virulent today's GOP has become and how its agenda is against public opinion when the public is given the true details of the GOP plan.  Read the full piece!  Here are highlights:
Last week, the United Kingdom’s Conservative Party unveiled a plan to keep British workers paid and employed for the duration of the coronavirus crisis. The Tory proposal would effectively cover 80 percent of sidelined workers’ salaries, while forbidding employers who accept the government’s help from laying off staff. The policy closely resembles one implemented by Denmark’s Social Democrats, except that Boris Johnson’s wage-replacement rate is slightly more generous than the Danish left’s. Although the Conservatives have a well-earned reputation for sacrificing Britain’s vulnerable on the altar of deficit reduction, even they recognize that social welfare must take precedence over budgetary concerns in the context of a historically sudden and deep economic crisis. On Friday, Tory chancellor Rishi Sunak announced that there would be no limit on the funding available for covering workers’ wages.
America’s conservatives see things differently.
U.S. workers are every bit as exposed to the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic side effects as their peers across the pond. Unlike their British counterparts, however, American laborers aren’t guaranteed affordable health care if they lose their jobs, nor any amount of paid sick leave should they take ill. And yet, despite our workers’ unique vulnerability to the harms of illness and unemployment, congressional Republicans are not only unwilling to support universal paid leave or make an open-ended commitment to covering 80 percent of workers’ salaries but are also fighting to protect the right of bailed-out corporations to fire as many workers as they see fit.
The mainstream press has attributed the Senate’s inaction to “Washington infighting,” or else to Democratic intransigence. But Chuck Schumer’s caucus didn’t vote down the Republican bill over some minor detail, or because it insisted on dictating the left’s preference on an issue that genuinely divides blue and red America. Rather, the key sticking point is that the GOP bill would empower the Trump administration to dole out $500 billion in bailout money to corporations of its own choosing — without forbidding bailed-out firms from laying off their workers. This arrangement would not only allow the hotelier-in-chief to plow public money into his companies and those of his cronies but also enable those firms to spend our government’s dollars on maintaining outsize executive compensation instead of retaining employees.
[T]he GOP’s insistence on subsidizing corporations that fire workers in the middle of a pandemic appears to be the Democrats’ paramount concern.
Critically, the Republican Party’s opposition to requiring bailed-out firms to retain at least 90 percent of their workers does not reflect the uniquely pro-management bent of public opinion in the U.S. . . . . when asked whether companies that accept government aid should be required to maintain their payrolls, 74 percent of respondents said yes. The requirement was nearly as popular with GOP voters as it was among Democratic ones, with 70 percent of self-identified Republicans approving.
Therefore, the gulf between the GOP’s response to the crisis and that of Britain’s Tories is not a product of public opinion or crass electoral concerns. Rather, it reflects the fact that the Republicans are not a normal conservative party, but a uniquely reactionary political formation. No other major party in the Western world rejects the concept of universal health care or disputes the reality of man-made climate change. The GOP is more adamantly opposed to the downward redistribution of resources, or any measure that tips the balance of power between workers and bosses in the former’s direction, than any center-right party in the developed world.
Republicans’ uniquely virulent strain of conservatism is undermining not only their response to COVID-19’s economic consequences but also to the public-health crisis itself. Even as U.S. hospitals and health-care workers are suffering from a shortage of masks and ventilators, President Trump has refused to invoke his authority under the Defense Production Act to force the mass production of those critical materials. Instead of conscripting domestic manufacturers into the figurative war on the coronavirus, the White House has attempted to arrange a voluntary consortium of firms interested in aiding with mask and ventilator production. According to the New York Times, this decision came at the behest of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Trump defended his approach Sunday on the grounds that “we’re a country not based on nationalizing our business.” Of course, invoking the DPA to temporarily commandeer a firm’s productive capacity is not tantamount to the nationalization of industry. Meanwhile, the voluntarist approach mandated by the GOP’s devotion to corporate prerogatives is not delivering the goods. . . .
For this reason, the wealthiest nation in human history appears to be on the cusp of allowing mass business failures and layoffs — and then attempting to redress those preventable economic harms by prematurely suspending social-distancing measures, thereby condemning many of its people to death by suffocation in hospital hallways.
And so long as that’s the case, mainstream news outlets must not attribute the relief package’s delay to small-minded partisanship or Democratic intransigence, but rather to the Republican Party’s singular commitment to the prerogatives of plutocrats.
 Once again, I find myself ashamed to have ever been a Republican.  Similarly, I do not understand how supposedly decent, moral people can continue to support today's GOP.