Saturday, April 11, 2020

More Saturday Male Beauty

An LGBT Perspective: Losing One's Faith Trying to "Pray Away the Gay"

Tomorrow is Easter and I will not be going to church - not because churches are closed due to the coronavirus pandemic but because I largely lost my Catholic faith as I struggled to "pray away the gay," something I began to do around age twelve and continued for decades without success.  As a child, I loved Easter, especially at my grand parents' beautiful church pictured at left. That was, of course, before I realized god had made me gay.  Early posts on this blog look at my faith struggle and I talk about it from time to time, usually when I see religion being used to deliberately harm LGBT people.  A piece in an Irish LGBT publication struck a chord with me because the author's experience so closely parallels my own.  

Like me, the author left Catholicism and largely walked away from organized Christianity (I remain technically a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America - they liberal Lutheran denomination).  Many in the LGBT community have had a similar experience once they shake off the self-hatred their religious upbringing had instilled in them as they come to comprehend the cruel lie that god supposedly loves you and made you in his image yet made you intrinsically disordered per Church dogma. I continue to worry about LGBT youth currently engaged in the fruitless struggle to pray away the gay, likely suffering from self-hate as a consequence.  Here are highlights of the piece which may help straight friends who remain churchgoers to understand why I find religion to be a harmful force for so many:  
I had a number of theories about my sexuality in my early years. At one point, I believed that God had made me gay as a challenge to see if I could overcome my same-sex desire. Later, about a year and a half into my efforts to pray myself straight, I thought that he might have just made some horrendous mistake. But even believing that was difficult, because I knew that God didn’t make mistakes. So, the theory I ultimately settled on was that my attraction to other boys was actually just a phase – it would pass in time and then, finally, I would be just like everybody else. Needless to say, that didn’t happen. 
Today, I am 26 years-old and I am openly and confidently gay. But I still look back on that teenager who so desperately wanted to change who he was and wonder: how did it get to that point? There were many reasons, of course; homophobic bullying, a hostile society – but my intense Catholic faith also played a big part in making me hate myself. My parents, while not exactly devout Catholics themselves, brought us to mass most weekends. We were cultural Catholics, but religion was also a big part of our lives. It was how we came together and it allowed us to connect to something bigger than ourselves. At 11 years-old, when most boys my age started having crushes on girls, I started having crushes on boys. By the time I was 12, my sexuality was in full swing – and I despised myself for it. I ventured onto Google and quickly established that being gay was not only socially unacceptable, but my church – the religion I cared so passionately about – strictly forbade it. I became increasingly aware of just how hated gay people were within Catholicism. It was an incredibly isolating and alienating feeling, to feel rejected from a place in which I had always felt so at home. I was too young to see the Catholic church’s anti-LGBT+ views for what they are: bigoted, normative, hateful. Instead, I told myself that I was the problem – that I needed to be fixed.
It was in that context that I started asking God to help me, to try to pray myself straight. My efforts were not without their complications; by that point, my faith was starting to crumble around me. I had backed myself into a theological corner, and it was patently clear that there was no easy way out of it. If God never makes mistakes, and makes us in his image, how could he have gone so far wrong with me? Why would he voluntarily create somebody who was intrinsically disordered when he makes everybody in his image? And if he truly loved me, as I had always been told he did, then why would he put me through this unbearable suffering? These questions did not have easy answers, and even while I continued to pray myself straight, they pushed me gently towards the exit door of atheism. 
When I was 13, I finally came up with a plan of action – I decided I would ask God to take this burden from me. To my dismay, my efforts to pray myself straight only made me more miserable. I felt utterly hopeless, and started to wonder if I would be better off dead. I contemplated suicide on numerous occasions as a teenager; whether to die or stay alive became a constant grappling point. I often wondered which would hurt my parents more: me dying or me coming out as gay.
Just before my 15th birthday, as I yet again tried to pray myself straight, I told God it would be the last time I would ask him to fix me. I told him I had had enough – I had tried hard enough to rid myself of these feelings. I asked him to rescue me – and he didn’t. That finally put an end to my belief in a higher power.
It is an intensely alienating feeling, standing in a beautiful Catholic church, remembering all the times I tried to pray myself straight, all the times I asked God, Jesus and the Virgin Mary to rescue me.
Today, I am firmly an atheist and the only masses I attend are the odd Catholic wedding. I’m not necessarily happy I’m an atheist, but I am happy that I’m no longer part of an organisation that is not just intolerant, but is actively hostile to LGBT+ people. I now understand that I, like all queer people, deserve so much better than what the Catholic church is prepared to offer us. I still hold out hope that one day, the church will change its teachings on LGBT+ issues, but that hope dims by the day. Every time it looks like Pope Francis is starting to move towards greater acceptance, he imminently throws more discrimination our way.
I no longer care what the Catholic church thinks of me. I keep my hope alive for all the other children growing up in that institution. It breaks my heart that they have to learn that they are not loved unconditionally like their straight and cisgender peers. I hope that one day, young queer people will no longer contemplate suicide because the church that was supposed to love them rejected them. I hope that they will be able to go to mass and won’t feel alienated in the way so many queer people do.
But right now, change looks a long way off. The Catholic church of today is an intensely backwards organisation that endeavours to keep people inside tiny boxes. But queer people cannot – and will not – thrive inside boxes.
 Unlike the author, I do not see myself as an atheist.  Rather, I am perhaps a deist like Jefferson and some of the other founding fathers.  There is a higher power - just not the god of the bible or the Roman Catholic Church.

Saturday Morning Male Beauty

Coronavirus Has Laid Bare the Flaws of America's Society/Economy

As America and the world continues to be in a tail spin from the coronavirus pandemic, the situation has been clarifying in many ways. It has demonstrated that the American business community's (and this extends to America's hospitals where even supposed non-profits act as if they were out to maximize cash flow) approach of "just-in-time" supply lines and moving manufacturing and even medical supply production to the areas with the lowest wages in the world, principally China, leaving the nation desperately dependent on foreign supply sources and ultimately foreign governments.  Meanwhile, at home labor has been beaten down and the vast majority of Americans live pay check to pay check and one medical crisis leads to bankruptcy - many who have physically sickened and then survived Covid-19 will likely be facing financial ruin from the medical bills.  Politically, much of the nation has been forced to face the reality of the consequences of election an individual who is a combination of crime syndicate boss and carnival huckster to the White House (there are Trump mini-me's when it comes to incompetence in a number of governor's mansions as well - think Texas  and Alabama for starters).  A piece in New York Magazine looks at this clarifying situation, especially America's insane dependence on a political enemy, China, to keep its economy and society from collapsing.  Here are column highlights:

The most advanced, sophisticated, and wealthy civilization ever to exist on planet Earth — our glorious, multinational, globalized, technological miracle — has now been brought to a screeching halt by a pathogen so tiny no one was able to see their complex structures until the last century. For all our unparalleled wealth and knowledge, our streets are empty; our businesses for the most part are suspended; and our efficiency and technological mastery have been mocked by a speck of nature. This minuscule organism that isn’t even technically alive could, all by itself, generate a global depression unlike any since the 1930s.
All our carefully maintained, just-in-time supply lines have crashed in a matter of days. Our addictive elixir, economic growth, has evaporated. Global trade has been put on ice. We have no vaccine — and, barring a miracle, we won’t until next year. We have no effective treatments, although that may, with any luck, change. We have only very porous defenses — social distancing — which amount to a drastic, utterly unsustainable shift in how we live from day to day. And that’s it. We don’t know how contagious this virus is, how exactly it may mutate, how widespread it already is in the population at large, and even if it can reactivate in those who have recovered from infection.
Yes, there are some more successful countries like Germany, and some outliers, like South Korea, but the rest seem to be following the same rough trajectory. And yes, we are flattening the curve … but it’s a temporary flattening due to unprecedented global shutdown of human activity. We may well be able, by suspending our entire way of life for a long while, to keep this virus from wreaking excessive and immediate damage, and overwhelming our hospitals. But we will not have beaten COVID-19. We will merely have stretched out the time it takes to spread.
The moment we relax, it will come back. Singapore, an early model for suppressing the virus, is now seeing a new wave after relaxing some controls. A leaked draft of a memo from the E.U. notes that “any level of [gradual] relaxation of the confinement will unavoidably lead to a corresponding increase in new cases.” The same risks of a rebound are being seen in China, in so far as we can believe a word that murderous dictatorship tells us.
It’s a brutal reality check, this thing — relentlessly ripping the veil off our delusions of control. So much is being laid bare. The promise of a truly globalized world, where government is increasingly international, and trade free, and all would benefit, was already under acute strain. Now, it’s broken, perhaps irrevocably.
The nation-state was beginning to reassert itself before, but COVID-19 has revealed its indispensability. Europeans realized, if they hadn’t already, that a truly continental response was beyond the E.U. Borders were suddenly enforced, resources hoarded by individual nations, and the most important decisions were made by national governments, in national interests. Americans, for their part, saw their own dependence on foreign countries, especially dictatorships, for core needs — like medicine, or medical equipment — as something to be corrected in the future. Japan is now spending a fortune paying its own companies to relocate from China to the homeland.
And for both Europe and America, the delusions that sustained the 21st-century engagement with China have begun to crack. We still don’t know how this virus emerged — and China hasn’t given any serious explanation of its origins. What we do know is that the regime punished and silenced those who wanted to sound the alarm as early as last December, and hid the true extent of the crisis from the rest of the world.
On January 18, despite the obvious danger, the Chinese dictatorship allowed a huge festival in Wuhan that drew tens of thousands of people.
On January 23, President Xi locked down all air traffic from Wuhan to the rest of China — but, as Niall Ferguson pointed out, not to the rest of the world. It’s as if they said to themselves, “Well, we’re going under, so we might as well bring the rest of the world down with us.” This is not the behavior of a responsible international state actor. Trump’s ban on Chinese travel was better than nothing, but it did not prevent over 400,000 non-Chinese from arriving in the U.S. from China as COVID-19 was gaining momentum. It’s fair to say, I think, that after the immediate, unforgivable cover-up in China, a global pandemic was inevitable.
I’m not excusing Trump for his delusions, denial, and dithering — he is very much at fault — but the core source of the destruction was and is Beijing. Bringing a totalitarian country, which is herding its Muslim inhabitants into concentration camps, into the heart of the Western world was, in retrospect, a gamble that has not paid off.
The Chinese dictatorship is, in fact, through recklessness and cover-up, responsible for a global plague and tipping the entire world into a deep depression.
In other cases, the cold triumph of reality represented by the virus has been salutary. It’s been remarkable to observe something Donald Trump cannot lie his way out of. He tried. And he’s still trying. He’s gaming out various ways to get himself reelected in a pandemic, but the pandemic keeps reminding us that this is in its control, not his. His daily performances are not informing anyone about anything — they are failing attempts to impose a narrative on an epidemic which has its own narrative, and doesn’t give two fucks about Trump.
And this is the truth about reality. It really does exist (whatever the postmodernists might argue). It’s complicated. And even if it can be ignored or forgotten in our very human discourses, it wins in the end. This virus is, in a way, a symbol of that reality. It can be stymied for a while; it can be suppressed and avoided.
[O]nly a vaccine can make a real difference. The coming months will be an unsatisfying series of starts and stops as we struggle to live with it. We are not, in other words, fighting and winning this war — we are merely negotiating the terms of our surrender to reality. And there is nothing more humbling for humans than that. And nothing more clarifying either.
Trump, various business interests, the Christofascist Trump has embraced, and, of course, the right wing media will continue to try to dupe Americans into looking away from and accepting reality, but for once they may have met a force that will succumb to their lies and propaganda. Thinking Americans need to take stock on how our economy and society need to be reordered to be prepared for future pandemics once we put this one behind us. 

Friday, April 10, 2020

Still More Friday Male Beauty

Anti-LGBT Hate Groups Surge as Trump (and Pence) Embrace Their Leaders

Trump with anti-gay zealot (and white supremacist) Tony Perkins.
The Trump/Pence regime has waged a relentless war on the LGBT community over the last 3 years, reversing pro-LGBT policies of the Obama administration, appointing virulently anti-LGBT extremists to the federal courts  (the Republican majority in the Senate rubber stamped these individuals, a number deemed unqualified by the American Bar Association), and openly embracing the leaders of anti-LGBT hate groups. Yet, unbelievably, a minority of gays - many white, educated and with social standing that they seemingly believe will protect them in a manner reminiscent of many 1930's European Jews who ended up in the Nazi death camps - continue to support the Trump regime and Republicans in general.  I find the behavior dumbfounding, especially given the rise of LGBT hate groups thanks to Trump and Pence's embrace of the toxic leaders.  A piece in RVA Magazine looks at this frightening phenomenon.  Here are highlights:

Anti-LGBTQ hate groups are rapidly growing across America, a result, the Southern Poverty Law Center says, of President Donald Trump’s leadership, including his embrace of those groups. The White House in response has issued a thin statement denying any responsibility or blame – while not even offering to make any changes or to help with the growing danger.
While overall, active hate groups of all types fell slightly in 2019 from 1020 to 940, there was a “sharp expansion,” a nearly 43 percent increase, in anti-LGBTQ hate groups, the SPLC reports, warning that the “Trump administration has demonstrated a clear willingness to embrace their leaders and their policy agenda.”
Far right wing Christian evangelicals, including anti-LGBTQ hate groups like the Family Research Council, have become emboldened, enjoying what they have said is “open door” access to the Oval Office.
“Anti-LGBTQ groups have become intertwined with the Trump administration, and — after years of civil rights progress and growing acceptance among the broader American public — anti-LGBTQ sentiment within the Republican Party is rising,” the Southern Poverty Law Center adds.
The White House issued a thin statement in response, refusing to accept any responsibility or blame. . . . the entire statement hinges on the President appointing openly-gay Trump diehard loyalist Richard Grenell as his Ambassador to Germany, then installing him – despite his absolute lack of qualifications – as his acting Director of National Security. It was Grenell who launched the campaign to decriminalize homosexuality – which exists in name only.
The SPLC also issued another dark warning: this hate and extremism “will far outlast this administration,” and not disappear when President Trump leaves office.
“As the country continues to experience white nationalist terror, extremist ideas long believed outside of the realm of legitimate politics are penetrating deeply into the mainstream, spawning public policies that target immigrants, LGBTQ people and Muslims. The Trump administration has installed members of hate groups into government — particularly those with anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim or anti-LGBTQ animus — and put in place highly punitive policies that seemed unthinkable just a few short years ago. These political moves will far outlast this administration, as Trump and his allies in the U.S. Senate have pushed through hundreds of new federal judges, many of whom are hostile to civil rights concerns and will serve for decades.”
While gays are the favored targets of these groups, their ultimate goal is their form of toxic Christianity becoming a de facto established religion in America with those who fail to embrace their toxic dogma condemned to second class citizenship.

The "Conservative" Campaign Against Science and Expertise

With the Republican Party base now controlled by Christofascists and overt racists, the GOP is engaged in a war against science, knowledge and expertise because all of this argue against the Christofascists' fairy tale world view and racists' desperate need to feel superior to others.    The Party has gone from one that valued education, knowledge and science to one where ignorance and bigotry is celebrated both among the party base and in the White House. This war on experts and expertise is placing the nation in danger, especially as Trump pushes to reopen the economy despite the dire warnings of health experts.  Trump's sole concern is reviving the economy and his own reelection chances.  How many might die doesn't factor into the equation.  A column in the Washington Post by a former Republican looks at this dangerous and disturbing phenomenon.  Here are highlights: 
It is perhaps inevitable that a problem as large and complex as covid-19 should result in a pandemic of motivated reasoning. It is a human tendency to interpret disasters as confirmation of our existing beliefs. So the coronavirus outbreak proves the need for a border wall. Or it demonstrates the urgency of Medicare-for-all. Or it resulted, in the words of Franklin Graham, from “a world that has turned its back on God.” 
The pandemic has given our health-care system an X-ray, revealing disturbing racial inequities that need to be understood and addressed. But on the whole, we are right to be wary of people who claim great tragedies as the confirmation of pet theories and previous prophesies. The convenience of an argument is often inversely proportional to its credibility.
Motivated reasoning is usually just tiresome. At its worst, it can be dangerous. Sometimes drawing the wrong lesson badly obscures a right and necessary lesson. Sometimes the interpretation of a crisis is so dramatically mistaken, so ludicrous and imprudent, that it can worsen the crisis itself.
Such is the case with conservatives who look at the coronavirus outbreak and see, of all things, the discrediting of experts and expertise. . . . . This argument assumes an intellectual fog that is just lifting. Though we are still relatively early in the pandemic, this much seems clear: The medical experts recommended aggressive social distancing to bend the curve of infections and deaths downward. Americans generally trusted the experts. By all the evidence, aggressive social distancing is bending the curve of infections and deaths downward. And places that were earliest and most aggressive in this approach have seen the best results.
This outcome doesn’t strike me as murky. It is difficult to see how experts whose advice clearly saved tens of thousands of lives can be called discredited. It is easy, however, to see how making this false claim might undermine public adherence to their advice, which still matters greatly in the crisis.
The limits of epidemiologists do not change the realities of epidemiology. The methods of science are the only way we gain access to information about the nature of disease. Judgments based on that information are not infallible. But they are always preferable to the aggregate opinion of the Internet. Even if that opinion stumbles on the truth, there is no way to be confident it is the truth.
The main failures we have seen in the coronavirus response have not been caused by excessive confidence in experts. Our problems have been rooted in the failure of political leaders to treat the warnings of experts with sufficient seriousness, and to act on those warnings with sufficient urgency. It was [Trump] the president who publicly dismissed the disease as a minor annoyance when other members of his administration knew that to be untrue. It was [Trump] the president who characterized pandemic awareness as a political conspiracy during wasted weeks. It was [Trump] the president who spouted misinformation about the disease and its treatment while horrified experts stood beside him.
From the beginning, flattening the curve was going to require heroic measures to achieve mixed results. That is the nature of reality, not a commentary on public health expertise. The experts have earned our trust. And continued progress depends on believing them.

More Friday Male Beauty

Two States Where Trump’s COVID-19 Response Could Backfire in 2020

After a brief rise in the polls, Donald Trump's approval ratings have fallen to around 42% in recent polls.  His nightly press conferences continue to be studies in misinformation, bragging and preening, and Trump continues to act like a school yard bully towards Democrat governors, including the Democrat governor of Michigan, a state Trump must win in November 2020.  Worse yet, he continues to push for an early reopening of the economy despite health experts' warnings that the consequences could be catastrophic. A piece in The Atlantic looks at two key states where Trump's mismanagement of the Covid-19 crisis may come back to haunt him - one can only hope that Trump is a large part of their respective state's problem.  Here are article excerpts:

A  handful of swing states will almost certainly decide the winner of November’s presidential election. And in two of them, Michigan and Florida, Donald Trump’s complicated relationship with their governors could expose him to greater political risk as the economic and social price of the coronavirus pandemic mounts.
Trump faces mirror-image threats. Michigan voters could interpret Trump’s animosity toward Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer as punishing the state. By contrast, in Florida, Trump’s liability could be his close relationship with Republican Governor Ron DeSantis, which is seen by many as one reason DeSantis was slow to impose a statewide stay-at-home order.
[I]n both cases, Trump’s posture toward the states is now inextricably interwoven with the larger story of their struggle to contain the disease.
Michigan is where Trump’s behavior presents the clearer danger to him come November. The president has repeatedly disparaged Whitmer and suggested that the White House should not return her calls, even as the state is buckling under the nation’s third-largest coronavirus caseload and faces medical-equipment and staffing shortages.
“It is politically stupid of the president to pick a fight with a governor who is trying to manage a crisis in a state that he has to win,” Eric Goldman, Whitmer’s former campaign manager, says flatly.
In Florida, conditions have not yet reached such a crisis point, though its caseload is growing steadily. But because DeSantis waited so long to act, he and Trump could be punished if the outbreak ultimately imposes a heavy cost on the state. “If this does get worse and worse … I think DeSantis’s vulnerability is Trump’s vulnerability,” says Adam Smith, a Tampa-based senior vice president at the bipartisan firm Mercury Public Affairs.
These divergent records frame the political risks confronting Trump from his relationships with these state leaders.
In Michigan, Democrats are sure to remind voters of his threats against Whitmer. He risks alienating those who think that a political grudge is driving the federal response. “There is an incredibly minuscule chance” that the clip of Trump talking about his conversation with Pence “does not make it into television ads, digital ads, and mailers throughout the state of Michigan later this year,” Goldman told me.
If the reaction has been relatively muted so far, Truscott believes that it’s because the outbreak is still seen primarily as a problem for greater Detroit. It hasn’t yet penetrated as deeply into the small-town and rural parts of the state that constitute the Trump heartland.
But that doesn’t mean it won’t—or that Detroiters’ outrage doesn’t affect Trump. He won Michigan in 2016 by only 10,704 votes—a smaller margin than in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, the two other bricks that he dislodged from the Democrats’ “blue wall.” The president can hardly afford any erosion in the populous Detroit metropolitan area.
Two suburban counties outside the city illustrate his problem. Four years ago, he won Macomb County, the fabled seedbed of blue-collar “Reagan Democrats,” by 12 percentage points, and he lost white-collar Oakland County by about eight points. In 2018, Whitmer narrowly won Macomb and roughly doubled Hillary Clinton’s margin in Oakland. Just before the outbreak crested last month, turnout in both places soared in the 2020 Democratic primary compared with 2016, a sign of rising engagement among Democrats.
Bernie Porn, the president of the Lansing-based nonpartisan polling firm EPIC-MRA, told me that before the outbreak, Trump “was already vulnerable in Michigan.” But his confrontations with Whitmer could seal his fate. . . . By attacking Whitmer while she copes with these enormous challenges, Porn said, Trump has created a situation where “the ads write themselves” for Democrats in the state. As ever, the politics on the ground in Florida are more complex. The state has been extraordinarily close in recent presidential and gubernatorial elections.
As of last night, Florida ranks eighth among the states in total number of cases. Over half of those have been recorded in the three big Democratic-leaning counties in the southeast: Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach. The statewide death toll remains relatively low, at about 300, or approximately one for every 100,000 people.
The outbreak’s concentration in the bluest parts of the state has created a dynamic similar to the one in Michigan: The Republican heartland (in northern and Central Florida, as well as parts of the Gulf Coast) may feel more threatened now by the economic risks of the disease than by the health dangers.
[T]the most recent public poll, from the University of North Florida, found the two in a much more tenuous position. Only 45 percent of respondents approved of Trump’s handling of the outbreak, and 51 percent gave DeSantis positive marks. That’s significantly below the number for governors in most other states. But longtime Florida political observers I spoke with believe that Democrats still face an extremely difficult puzzle in Florida. The Democratic ticket needs to excite turnout among African American and non-Cuban Latino voters, while still reassuring enough older white voters to avoid catastrophic losses among that huge bloc in the state. But to Smith, as with other analysts in the state, the coronavirus outbreak remains a wild card. DeSantis deviated so conspicuously from the approach of virtually every other big-state governor.
Another potential vulnerability is that Florida’s unemployment system, which was redesigned under DeSantis’s Republican predecessor, has staggered under the increased demand from disease-related layoffs.
But what is clear even now is that many in the state see Trump’s fingerprints on the governor’s decisions. That means [Trump] the president is unlikely to escape unscathed if Floridians ultimately conclude that the governor made the wrong choice in waiting to act until only a handful of governors in the most conservative states, such as Alabama and Wyoming, had refused to do so.
“This is a pivotal moment right now, and we continue to not see leadership coming out of Tallahassee on this issue, certainly relative to almost every other state,” Smith said. “We are akin to what’s going on in Alabama. Is that what we expect from our leadership in this state?”
The answer to that question may determine whether Democrats can fight back into contention in a key swing state that before the crisis had seemed to be drifting beyond their grasp. And Florida could be even more consequential to the president’s reelection hopes if he’s already doomed his chances in Michigan.
I wish Trump nothing but misfortune in both states and would shed no tears if "red" portions of those states that helped put Trump in office suffer a calamity.

Friday Morning Male Beauty

Thursday, April 09, 2020

Alabama Republicans Can’t Manage the Crisis They Helped Create

Alabama state capitol.
A college classmate (and law school classmate as well) from Mobile shared this piece from an Alabama publication on Facebook which drew a reaction from me, both as a former Republican and a former resident of Alabama, a state for which I developed a fondness.  When I arrived in Mobile for my first job after graduating from law school, in some ways Alabama was more progressive than Virginia, especially in the legal realm where the state's rules of civil procedure had been totally rewritten to lately mirror the federal rules and there was a woman on the State Supreme Court.  Virginia's rules of procedure at the time - and even now - still retain 19th century provisions that seem like something out of a Masterpiece Theater program set in the 1700's or perhaps 1800's. In addition, when I arrived in Mobile, George Wallace was governor (yes, I met him), yet were he living and to seek office today, I doubt he could be elected - he'd be too moderate for Alabama's Christofascists and much more open white supremacists.  Now, faced with the coronavirus pandemic, the Alabama Republican Party and that state's embarrassment of a governor are utterly unprepared for a crisis they and their national party helped create.    Meanwhile, much of the promise and potential the state had when I first arrived has been destroyed.  Here are column excerpts:
On Tuesday, Alabama’s governor called together the state’s media, in the midst of a global pandemic, so they could broadcast pictures of her tying a ribbon around a post to remind people to pray for healthcare workers. 
Surrounding Gov. Kay Ivey at the event were various pastors from churches in and around Montgomery. And they each were given time to speak about the importance of prayer and remembering those who are risking their lives. 
It was a nice gesture. And possibly the clearest indication yet that Ivey and the Republicans that are in charge of Alabama haven’t the faintest idea of how to lead this state through a crisis. 
They have no real plan. They have no ideas for how to address the mounting problems. They have been completely and thoroughly overwhelmed by the COVID-19 outbreak since the start. 
And so, they have turned to what they know best: Pointless pandering.  Except, you can’t folksy your way out of this mess. You can’t blame the black folks and throw money at a few jobs and hope no one notices that you don’t know what you’re doing. 
And that’s a problem in this state. 
Because the ALGOP leadership of this state has built its brand on division and distraction. It has used petty nonsense, like the protection of racist monuments, and emotional ploys, mostly built around religion and false claims about abortions, to seize and maintain control of Alabama’s government, even as they totally wreck the place. 
They’ve gotten away with it because up until now no singular event has simultaneously exposed how their incompetence has negatively affected the lives of so many Alabamians in almost every racial and economic demographic. 
And then along came coronavirus.  It has laid bare all of it. And the devastating reality of this void of leadership continues to grow day after day as the bodies pile up. 
Now, just so we’re clear and so no half-wit starts clamoring on that I’m blaming the ALGOP leadership for the coronavirus, I’m most certainly not doing that. I’m blaming ALGOP’s lack of leadership for the excessive number of deaths that will occur in this state, and for the many thousands of lives that will be forever ruined by the hospital bills that result from this. 
The refusal to expand Medicaid alone has effects that will eventually negatively impact every single person in this state. That purely political decision that makes no practical sense if politics is removed has already cost thousands of lives around Alabama over the last six years. The devastation from the current crisis is going to be staggering. 
Not only are uninsured people who contract coronavirus less likely to go for testing or to seek treatment until the latter stages of the disease (meaning they’ll spread it far and wide), a good portion of people are responding more negatively to the virus because they have underlying conditions that have gone undetected and untreated for years. Because people without insurance don’t go to the doctor.  
Even if the virus doesn’t kill them, many of those uninsured citizens in Alabama will face unmanageable medical bills. A study from the independent nonprofit FAIR Health found that the average cost to treat coronavirus for an uninsured person was around $75,000. If a ventilator is required, the bill jumps to more than $200,000. 
And with a fresh crop of unemployed Alabamians — more than 200,000 claims filed as of Monday — that’s a whole mess of people who are suddenly missing insurance and the ability to pay their hospital bills. 
Which, of course, means that more Alabama hospitals will close. There have already been 14 closures over the past eight years, and there are at least three more small hospitals teetering on the brink of bankruptcy right now. By the time this is said and done, the only cities that will have hospitals will be Huntsville, Birmingham, Montgomery and Mobile. And a few of those aren’t looking so great. 
The news is even worse for black Alabamians — a phrase that black Alabamians know too well. More than half the state’s deaths from coronavirus have been black people. A staggering figure when you consider that only 27 percent of Alabama’s population is black. 
The reason for this, Dr. Selwyn Vickers, dean of the UAB School of Medicine, suggested is that the African American population in Alabama — high in poverty and low in insurance coverage — is possibly more susceptible to the virus due to underlying medical conditions that have gone untreated due to a lack of routine and preventative visits to a doctor. 
So, you see, the mismanagement goes well beyond simply not expanding Medicaid. And that is true even when focusing only on this current crisis. 
From the mixed messages of “folks, we’re not California or New York or even Louisiana” to the insistence on protecting businesses over people to the absurd stay-at-home-unless-you-need-to-go-out-for-something order, Ivey’s responses — when she’s popped out every 3-4 days — have been a disaster. 
But to her credit, I guess, at least she’s doing something. The state legislature, where ALGOP enjoys a super-majority, literally did nothing but adjourn as this virus started to spread. 
As the crisis grows, we have also realized that the ALGOP mission to underfund every government agency so they can issue a press release touting the tax “savings” isn’t really paying off so swell. Thanks to those funding cuts, pretty much every department needed in this crisis is understaffed, poorly trained and poorly equipped. 
But perhaps the best example of just where we are came on Wednesday, in a story reported by In 2009, Alabama had a pandemic plan, and it had used federal dollars — in the midst of a national recession, mind you — to stockpile ventilators and personal protective equipment for doctors and nurses. We were ready for COVID-19.  In 2009.  But in 2010, ALGOP stormed the state house. And, well, here we are.

More Thursday Male Beauty

Why the Wealthy Fear Pandemics

There have been numerous stories of the very wealthy retreating from cities to flee to the country estates and - better yet if one owns one on one - remote islands - to escape the COVID-19 pandemic and crowded cities such as New York.  They seek to avoid the masses and potential infection.  But, as a piece by a historian in the New York Times lays out, the wealthy have another reason to fear a pandemic and the upheaval that it can bring: the masses demand a more equal playing field and a bigger piece of the economic pie - something Republican "reverse Robin Hood policies" strive to prevent.  At present, the verdict is out on whether or not the COVID-19 pandemic will cause a demand for economic change in America.  Rapidly rising unemployment (another 6 million workers are likely to file unemployment this week) may work against Republican regimes which have long sought to kick the unemployed to the curb or limit unemployment assistance to levels that do not allow for survival.  One can hope that the majority will say "enough" to the 1% sucking up more and more of the nation's wealth and that progressive changes will come.  Meanwhile, here are article highlights on the world's past experiences:  
In the fall of 1347, rat fleas carrying bubonic plague entered Italy on a few ships from the Black Sea. Over the next four years, a pandemic tore through Europe and the Middle East. Panic spread, as the lymph nodes in victims’ armpits and groins swelled into buboes, black blisters covered their bodies, fevers soared and organs failed. Perhaps a third of Europe’s people perished.
The plague returned a mere decade later and periodic flare-ups continued for a century and a half, thinning out several generations in a row. Because of this “destructive plague which devastated nations and caused populations to vanish,” the Arab historian Ibn Khaldun wrote, “the entire inhabited world changed.”
The wealthy found some of these changes alarming. In the words of an anonymous English chronicler, “Such a shortage of laborers ensued that the humble turned up their noses at employment, and could scarcely be persuaded to serve the eminent for triple wages.” Influential employers, such as large landowners, lobbied the English crown to pass the Ordinance of Laborers, which informed workers that they were “obliged to accept the employment offered” for the same measly wages as before.
As a result of this shift in the balance between labor and capital, we now know, thanks to painstaking research by economic historians, that real incomes of unskilled workers doubled across much of Europe within a few decades. According to tax records that have survived in the archives of many Italian towns, wealth inequality in most of these places plummeted. In England, workers ate and drank better than they did before the plague and even wore fancy furs that used to be reserved for their betters.
At the same time, higher wages and lower rents squeezed landlords, many of whom failed to hold on to their inherited privilege. Before long, there were fewer lords and knights, endowed with smaller fortunes, than there had been when the plague first struck.
But these outcomes were not a given. . . . . The policy choices that result determine whether inequality rises or falls in response to such calamities. And history teaches us that these choices can change societies in very different ways.
Looking at the historical record across Europe during the late Middle Ages, we see that elites did not readily cede ground, even under extreme pressure after a pandemic. During the Great Rising of England’s peasants in 1381, workers demanded, among other things, the right to freely negotiate labor contracts. Nobles and their armed levies put down the revolt by force, in an attempt to coerce people to defer to the old order. But the last vestiges of feudal obligations soon faded. Workers could hold out for better wages, and landlords and employers broke ranks with each other to compete for scarce labor.
Elsewhere, however, repression carried the day. In late medieval Eastern Europe, from Prussia and Poland to Russia, nobles colluded to impose serfdom on their peasantries to lock down a depleted labor force. This altered the long-term economic outcomes for the entire region: Free labor and thriving cities drove modernization in western Europe, but in the eastern periphery, development fell behind. But more often than not, repression failed. The first known plague pandemic in Europe and the Middle East, which started in 541, provides the earliest example. Anticipating the English Ordinance of Laborers by 800 years, the Byzantine emperor Justinian railed against scarce workers . . . . The doubling or tripling of real incomes reported on papyrus documents from the Byzantine province of Egypt leaves no doubt that his decree fell on deaf ears. None of these stories had a happy ending for the masses. . . . . In most European societies, disparities in income and wealth rose for four centuries all the way up to the eve of World War I. It was only then that a new great wave of catastrophic upheavals undermined the established order, and economic inequality dropped to lows not witnessed since the Black Death, if not the fall of the Roman Empire. In looking for illumination from the past on our current pandemic, we must be wary of superficial analogies. Even in the worst-case scenario, Covid-19 will kill a far smaller share of the world’s population than any of these earlier disasters did, and it will touch the active work force and the next generation even more lightly. Labor won’t become scarce enough to drive up wages, nor will the value of real estate plummet. And our economies no longer rely on farmland and manual labor.
Yet the most important lesson of history endures. The impact of any pandemic goes well beyond lives lost and commerce curtailed. Today, America faces a fundamental choice between defending the status quo and embracing progressive change. The current crisis could prompt redistributive reforms akin to those triggered by the Great Depression and World War II, unless entrenched interests prove too powerful to overcome.

Thursday Morning Male Beauty

‘Never Trump’ Republicans Endorse Biden

With Bernie Sanders ending his presidential campaign - the Green Party which by default elected Donald Trump is seeking to woe his followers despite Sanders' pledge to support Joe Biden - has set the stage for a full focus on ending America's other national emergency: ending the presidency of Donald Trump.  While Biden was never my ideal candidate, he must become the vehicle by which Trump is sent into retirement (and hopefully, criminal prosecution down the road) and it is urgent that anyone who cares for the rule of law and the progressive policies Sanders endorses get behind Biden.  Even many former Republicans see this truth, so one can only hope that Sanders supporters smell the coffee and get on board to defeat the worse and most dangerous occupant of the White in the nation's history.  A piece in the Washington Post looks at endorsements Biden is receiving.  Here are highlights: 
Former vice president Joe Biden, now the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, amassed a diverse slate of new endorsements Wednesday from former primary challengers to friends-turned-foes of President Trump.
The list includes Sen. Michael F. Bennet (D-Colo.), who was a contender in the Democratic primary; Anthony Scaramucci, onetime Trump champion and short-lived White House communications director; and the Lincoln Project, a group of anti-Trump Republicans led by George Conway.
Bennet announced that he was endorsing the former vice president hours after Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) dropped out of the race.
“Americans are asking two questions in this election: Who can beat Donald Trump, and who can get anything done? That candidate is former Vice President Joe Biden, and I am proud to endorse him for President of the United States,” Bennet said in a statement.
 The Lincoln Project is an organization made up of Republicans that cites its mission as defeating “President Trump and Trumpism at the ballot box.” The most high-profile member is George Conway, husband to White House senior adviser Kellyanne Conway and frequent Trump critic.
“We are proud to endorse @JoeBiden for President,” the group tweeted. “As America contends with unprecedented loss, we need a leader who can steady the ship, heal our common wounds, and lead us into our next national chapter. Joe Biden has the humanity, empathy and steadiness we need in a leader.”

Wednesday, April 08, 2020

Wednesday Morning Male Beauty

Fox News Preparing for Lawsuits Over Coronavirus Misinformation

One lawsuit has already been filed against Fox News for what amounts to consumer fraud for its lies and untruths during the first stages of the coronavirus pandemic when the network largely parroted or amplified the untruths coming out of the Trump/Pence regime, including claims that the whole matter was a Chinese hoax. It appears the network grasps the reality that more lawsuits will follow. The irony, of course, is that while desperately seeking to protect Donald Trump and bludgeon Democrats and parts of the news media that actually report facts as opposed to propaganda, Fox News endangered its own viewers who remain the most likely to disregard the seriousness of the pandemic and to ignore the safeguards recommended by medical experts.  The other irony is that purveyors of lies like Hannity claim they never said things that are documented on video.  They seemingly believe everyone is a stupid as their viewers. Fox News deserves to pay a very high price for the harm it has done to the nation.  Here are highlights from a piece in Vanity Fair:
Just over a week ago, former Fox Business host Trish Regan parted ways with the network, ostensibly because she called the coronavirus melee “yet another attempt to impeach...demonize, and destroy the president.” That the comments, which mirrored those of nearly every other Fox host at the time, would result in her termination seemed disproportionate, and last week a member of Fox Corporation chairman Rupert Murdoch’s front office told the Daily Beast that Regan represented “a sacrificial lamb”—a scapegoat for critics who lampooned the network for dangerously misinforming its viewers about a deadly pandemic. Regan’s ouster failed to achieve this goal, and according to new reports, Fox is now lawyering up, bracing for a litany of public-interest lawsuits and letters of condemnation for pedaling misinformation for weeks prior to coronavirus’s explosion in the U.S. 
The first such consumer-protection complaint came from the Washington League for Increased Transparency and Ethics (WASHLITE) on Thursday, which named Murdoch,__ Fox News, AT&T, Comcast, and other related entities as defendants. Seeking nominal damage, the suit claims the “defendants acted in bad faith to willfully and maliciously disseminate false information denying and minimizing the danger posed by the spread of the novel Coronavirus, or COVID-19, which is now recognized as an international pandemic.” . . . . We believe it delayed and interfered with a prompt and adequate response to this coronavirus pandemic.”
Well past the olive branch phase, Fox is reportedly ready for whatever court battles come next. “The strategy is no settlements, even if it costs way more to fight the lawsuit and seek sanctions for ambulance-chasing lawyers,” an executive told the Daily Beast.  He recalled the Murdochs’ successful evasion of two lawsuits related to conspiratorial Fox coverage of the murder of DNC staffer Seth Rich, which were dismissed in 2018 . . . .
This time, however, might be very different from the Rich case. During a Sunday appearance on MSNBC, my colleague Gabriel Sherman said Fox insiders had expressed “real concern...that their early downplaying of the coronavirus actually exposes Fox News to potential legal action by viewers who maybe were misled and actually have died from this.” He went on to say that while the Murdochs are “privately taking coronavirus seriously”—Rupert Murdoch quietly cancelled his 89th birthday party on March 11—top hosts like Regan and Sean Hannity were actively “telling viewers that it’s a hoax...If it actually winds up being proved that people died because of it, this is a new terrain in terms of Fox being possibly held liable for their actions.”
A number of public opinion surveys suggest Fox succeeded in swaying the perception of coronavirus among its viewers. Despite COVID-19 deaths mounting to more than 10,000 in the U.S., and case numbers here surpassing 350,000, 79% of Fox News consumers who responded to a Pew Research survey last week believe the media “slightly or greatly exaggerated the risk of the pandemic.”
A mid-March poll conducted by Survey 160 and Gradient Metrics poll revealed that Americans who tune into Fox News are more likely to ignore Centers for Disease Control advisories to stay at home than both non-Fox-watching Republicans and Democrats.
A similar poll from YouGov and The Economist conducted in mid-March showed that, compared to consumers of other types of news media, Fox News viewers are the least likely to express concern about coronavirus.
“The misinformation that reaches the Fox News audience is a danger to public health. Indeed, it is not an overstatement to say that your misreporting endangers your own viewers—and not only them, for in a pandemic, individual behavior affects significant numbers of other people as well,” states the letter, enumerating misleading coverage.
In an interview with Newsweek, Hannity himself fired back at the letter in an attempt to rewrite history.  . . . ...I never called it a ‘hoax,’” he said. . . . . On March 9, Hannity implied that media outlets covering the virus were doing so to “bludgeon Trump with this new hoax.” Two days later, he insisted that the seasonal flu is “much more dangerous” than COVID-19 and argued that “we’re all dying” anyway. 
 One can only hope that Fox News' history of outright lies finally catches up with it and that it suffers a serious financial reckoning.  As for its viewers, perhaps deaths among its  knuckle dragging viewers will cause some to wake up and change the channel. 

Tuesday, April 07, 2020

More Tuesday Male Beauty

Coronavirus Is Forcing the GOP to Admit Its Ideology Is Delusional

The Republican Party discarded a belief in facts, logic and knowledge over two decades ago, first when it welcomed Christofascists into the party and, worse yet foolishly voted many of them onto local city and county committees, a move that forced many moderates to flee the party and its new members who embraced ignorance. Then, of course, there was the rise of the so-called Tea Party crowd which (i) overlapped significantly with the Christofascist set, and (ii) sought to gut the federal government.  Lastly, especially under Donald Trump, the Party embraced unabashed racists and white supremacists who sought to take the nation back to the days of segregation and white privilege writ large.  The ideology that emerged stressed (A) a hatred of foreigners, especially non-whites, (B) a mindset where the federal government needed to shrink and agencies needed to be dissolved, and (C) that the free-market should reign supreme. Now, as a lengthy piece in New York Magazine looks at how the coronavirus and the economic collapse it is triggering shows the delusional nature of the GOP agenda when confronted with a unrivaled crisis and inconvenient objective facts.  Here are article highlights:

As the coronavirus pandemic shutters America’s storefronts and fills its ICUs, the GOP is camouflaging a whispered confession beneath a cough. . . . But listen carefully to recent directives from the Trump administration and its allies and you’ll hear unmistakably: Our theory of governance is a lie.
The modern conservative movement holds these truths to be self-evident:
1. Undocumented immigrants are a scourge of American society, a nefarious invading army that’s depriving native-born workers of precious jobs, filling our cities with crime, and leeching off our welfare programs.
2. Uncle Sam has grown badly bloated and could govern more effectively if a wide swath of federal agencies were gutted.
3. The market is (a largely) apolitical sphere ruled by the impartial dictates of an invisible hand. Thus the superrich do not owe their astronomical market incomes to any set of politically ordained laws or institutions; rather, they earn their gains in a fundamental, metaphysical sense, and the state must therefore meet a heavy burden before it can justify coercively redistributing the wealth that billionaires have rightly earned. By the same token, the working poor cannot blame their low pay on political powerlessness but the objectively low value of their contributions to society.
Before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Donald Trump made a halfway-convincing show of governing as though these claims had some correspondence with reality. . . . . Trump downsized the federal bureaucracies — first by neglecting to fill vacant positions, then by purging the “deep state” of experts who would privilege their official duties over personal loyalty to the commander-in-chief. Finally, the White House has affirmed the moral premises of laissez-faire by prioritizing tax cuts, inveighing against socialism, opposing an increase to the federal minimum wage, and slashing regulations that attempt to price the social costs of economic activity that market signals fail to capture.
A theory of government assembled out of the self-affirming delusions of the reactionary rich — and seething, amnesia-laden nostalgia of white cultural traditionalists — is bound to be a poor compass for guiding the ship of state. This was true before the coronavirus reached our shores. But the pandemic has brought the tension between the verities of CPAC and exigencies of governance to such vertiginous heights Republicans have been forced to (tacitly, quietly) make three startling admissions:
1. Undocumented immigrants are among the most indispensable contributors to the American economy.
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced the U.S. to determine whose labor it can and cannot live without. In much of the country, nonessential businesses have been forced to shut their doors . . . Unfortunately for Trumpism, undocumented agricultural workers are among our economy’s most valuable players.  . . .  his [Trump’s] administration has never before formally acknowledged the fact that undocumented workers are essential for keeping America fed.
By some estimates, roughly three-quarters of all crop hands in the U.S. do not have a legal right to be in this country. This is no accident. Since the early 1920s, when nativists enacted ethnic quotas restricting the inflow of Asian and European immigrants, America’s large growers have relied on Mexican migrants to provide the cheap, physically grueling seasonal labor that their business models demand.
There is little evidence that these workers are taking jobs from native-born Americans. When the Trump administration and the Federal Reserve implemented full-employment fiscal and monetary policies before the pandemic, the unemployment rate went to historic lows even as the undocumented population remained millions strong. Rather, undocumented farmworkers are mostly just aiding U.S. consumers by accepting the low wages that keep food prices down and subsidizing Social Security recipients by paying into that program despite their own ineligibility for benefits.
2. The administrative state needs to be reconstructed.
For the White House, this confession has been more tacit than explicit. But the pandemic has forced the Trump administration to confront the fact that much of America’s “administrative state” is less bloated than it is emaciated. In part, this is a mess of Trump’s own making; the president dissolved the National Security Council’s pandemic task force and pushed for cuts to the CDC and NIH budgets that plausibly undermined the initial response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Similarly, Trump’s understaffing of the Treasury Department has undermined the administration’s management of the present economic crisis. But other difficulties besetting the White House are more damning for the conservative movement ideologically than the president personally.
Unlike many less-wealthy nations, the U.S. lacks the state capacity necessary to rapidly deposit cash relief into citizens’ bank accounts or cover the wage bills of struggling firms. As a result, the Trump administration was forced to structure its small-business bailout as a forgivable-loan program implemented through private banks, rather than a grant program implemented by the federal government. This has vastly increased the logistical difficulty of getting public funds into small-business owners’ hands. Similarly, our underfunded IRS (and large unbanked population) has made getting cash-relief checks to all working-class Americans a months-long endeavor. Meanwhile, our nation’s sclerotic unemployment-insurance systems have been failing to process the tidal wave of new jobless claims, preventing laid-off workers from accessing their new enhanced benefits.
The White House’s allies defended its efforts to the Post by citing the “daunting set of tasks” that the pandemic has created for the White House. But what makes those tasks so daunting is precisely that wide swathes of America’s administrative state are in sorry need of reconstruction.
In Florida, the GOP has confessed this point more forthrightly. As the Sunshine State’s deliberately underfunded unemployment-insurance system crashed last week, an adviser to Republican governor Ron DeSantis described the government office as a “shit sandwich.”
3. The “free market” is a big government program.
Markets, money, and corporations are all creations of the state. The distribution of income is not determined by an invisible hand’s objective appraisal of each worker and investor’s marginal utility but by the politically constructed laws and institutions that structure economic activity in a given society. These are plain facts. But they are inconvenient ones for a party that exists to oppose the progressive redistribution of economic power in a heinously unequal society. If Republicans were to concede that there is nothing natural or inherently just about the market distribution of income, then they would have to affirmatively defend deliberately increasing the superrich’s share of GDP growth at a time when the top 0.1 percent of households own as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent combined.
And yet, even as some congressional Republicans flail to uphold the fiction of an apolitical marketplace, the Trump administration’s bailout policies have torn it to shreds. With Treasury Secretary Mnuchin’s eager approval, the Federal Reserve has set about directly financing U.S. corporations for the first time in its history. Which is to say: A government institution is deciding which firms to keep alive with cheap credit and which to let die. Meanwhile, the federal government is (however haphazardly) attempting to compensate firms and workers for their losses as it demonstrates its capacity to prioritize human welfare over economic growth.
The GOP’s tacit confessions of ideological obsolescence have been hushed, limited, and inconsistent. A reflexive aversion to contravening the prerogatives of capital is still undermining the White House’s response to the pandemic and recession. The Trump administration has stubbornly honored the conservative principle that the federal government must never coerce private industry into manufacturing public goods unless those goods can be used to kill foreigners.
Nevertheless, COVID-19 has called many of the conservative movement’s biggest bluffs. Perhaps the GOP will therefore emerge from this crisis an ideologically revitalized center-right party that’s committed to an evidence-based conservatism that would favor deregulation where appropriate (such as, say, for physician’s licensing requirements), heightened state capacity where needed, and respect for all hard-working Americans.
But it seems infinitely more likely that the same affinity for self-affirming delusions and memory-obliterating nostalgia that birthed movement conservatism will ensure that it remains a plague on our body politic long after we’ve kicked COVID-19.