Saturday, April 25, 2020

The Pandemic Has Shown That America is a Very Broken State

If nothing else, the Covid-19 pandemic is revealing that years of Republican policies - both under George W. Bush, while the GOP held the U.S. Senate and obstructed the Obama administration efforts, and now under the corrupt and incompetent regime of Der Trumpenführer - have left America a broken state.  Some might even argue a failed state.  Clearly, America is not the nation that won WWII and was the unrivaled leader of the world in the post-WWII era, leading in technology, manufacturing, science and a government infrastructure and economy that worked for a majority of Americans.  The GOP has long sought to bring back the Gilded Age of the late 1800's and pre-WWI era when the robber barons and incredible rich payed little in taxes while the rest of the citizenry struggled to get bay.  Under the Trump/Pence regime, much of this GOP agenda has been realized with huge tax cuts for the wealthy, the rolling back of health and safety regulations, and an economic system designed to benefit the wealthy first and foremost.  Now, the pandemic gripping the nation has pulled back the curtain and revealed the consequences of GOP policies.  A very long piece in The Atlantic looks at where America finds itself and the decision that must be made as to where the nation goes from here.  The following are article highlights: 
When the virus came here, it found a country with serious underlying conditions, and it exploited them ruthlessly. Chronic ills—a corrupt political class, a sclerotic bureaucracy, a heartless economy, a divided and distracted public—had gone untreated for years. We had learned to live, uncomfortably, with the symptoms. It took the scale and intimacy of a pandemic to expose their severity—to shock Americans with the recognition that we are in the high-risk category. 

The crisis demanded a response that was swift, rational, and collective. The United States reacted instead like Pakistan or Belarus—like a country with shoddy infrastructure and a dysfunctional government whose leaders were too corrupt or stupid to head off mass suffering. The administration squandered two irretrievable months to prepare. From [Trump] the president came willful blindness, scapegoating, boasts, and lies. From his mouthpieces, conspiracy theories and miracle cures. A few senators and corporate executives acted quickly—not to prevent the coming disaster, but to profit from it. When a government doctor tried to warn the public of the danger, the White House took the mic and politicized the message. Every morning in the endless month of March, Americans woke up to find themselves citizens of a failed state. With no national plan—no coherent instructions at all—families, schools, and offices were left to decide on their own whether to shut down and take shelter. When test kits, masks, gowns, and ventilators were found to be in desperately short supply, governors pleaded for them from the White House, which stalled, then called on private enterprise, which couldn’t deliver. States and cities were forced into bidding wars that left them prey to price gouging and corporate profiteering. Civilians took out their sewing machines to try to keep ill-equipped hospital workers healthy and their patients alive. Russia, Taiwan, and the United Nations sent humanitarian aid to the world’s richest power—a beggar nation in utter chaos. Donald Trump saw the crisis almost entirely in personal and political terms. Fearing for his reelection, he declared the coronavirus pandemic a war, and himself a wartime president. But the leader he brings to mind is Marshal Philippe Pétain, the French general who, in 1940, signed an armistice with Germany after its rout of French defenses, then formed the pro-Nazi Vichy regime. Like Pétain, Trump collaborated with the invader and abandoned his country to a prolonged disaster. And, like France in 1940, America in 2020 has stunned itself with a collapse that’s larger and deeper than one miserable leader.
[I]t should force a question that most Americans have never had to ask: Do we trust our leaders and one another enough to summon a collective response to a mortal threat? Are we still capable of self-government?
This is the third major crisis of the short 21st century. The first, on September 11, 2001, came when Americans were still living mentally in the previous century, and the memory of depression, world war, and cold war remained strong. On that day, people in the rural heartland did not see New York as an alien stew of immigrants and liberals that deserved its fate, but as a great American city that had taken a hit for the whole country.
Partisan politics and terrible policies, especially the Iraq War, erased the sense of national unity and fed a bitterness toward the political class that never really faded. The second crisis, in 2008, intensified it. At the top, the financial crash could almost be considered a success. Congress passed a bipartisan bailout bill that saved the financial system. Outgoing Bush-administration officials cooperated with incoming Obama administration officials. . . . . . All of the lasting pain was felt in the middle and at the bottom, by Americans who had taken on debt and lost their jobs, homes, and retirement savings. Many of them never recovered, and young people who came of age in the Great Recession are doomed to be poorer than their parents. Inequality—the fundamental, relentless force in American life since the late 1970s—grew worse. Social bonds had been under growing strain for several decades, and now they began to tear. The reforms of the Obama years, important as they were—in health care, financial regulation, green energy—had only palliative effects. The long recovery over the past decade enriched corporations and investors, lulled professionals, and left the working class further behind. The lasting effect of the slump was to increase polarization and to discredit authority, especially government’s. Trump came to power as the repudiation of the Republican establishment. But the conservative political class and the new leader soon reached an understanding. Whatever their differences on issues like trade and immigration, they shared a basic goal: to strip-mine public assets for the benefit of private interests. Republican politicians and donors who wanted government to do as little as possible for the common good could live happily with a regime that barely knew how to govern at all, and they made themselves Trump’s footmen. Like a wanton boy throwing matches in a parched field, Trump began to immolate what was left of national civic life. He never even pretended to be president of the whole country, but pitted us against one another along lines of race, sex, religion, citizenship, education, region, and—every day of his presidency—political party. His main tool of governance was to lie. A third of the country locked itself in a hall of mirrors that it believed to be reality; a third drove itself mad with the effort to hold on to the idea of knowable truth; and a third gave up even trying. Trump acquired a federal government crippled by years of right-wing ideological assault, politicization by both parties, and steady defunding. He set about finishing off the job and destroying the professional civil service. He drove out some of the most talented and experienced career officials, left essential positions unfilled, and installed loyalists as commissars over the cowed survivors, with one purpose: to serve his own interests. His major legislative accomplishment, one of the largest tax cuts in history, sent hundreds of billions of dollars to corporations and the rich. This was the American landscape that lay open to the virus: in prosperous cities, a class of globally connected desk workers dependent on a class of precarious and invisible service workers; in the countryside, decaying communities in revolt against the modern world; on social media, mutual hatred and endless vituperation among different camps; in the economy, even with full employment, a large and growing gap between triumphant capital and beleaguered labor; in Washington, an empty government led by a con man and his intellectually bankrupt party; around the country, a mood of cynical exhaustion, with no vision of a shared identity or future. If the pandemic really is a kind of war, it’s the first to be fought on this soil in a century and a half. Invasion and occupation expose a society’s fault lines, exaggerating what goes unnoticed or accepted in peacetime, clarifying essential truths, raising the smell of buried rot.
 The virus should have united Americans against a common threat. With different leadership, it might have. Instead, even as it spread from blue to red areas, attitudes broke down along familiar partisan lines. The virus also should have been a great leveler. You don’t have to be in the military or in debt to be a target—you just have to be human. But from the start, its effects have been skewed by the inequality that we’ve tolerated for so long. . . . . . ordinary people with fevers and chills had to wait in long and possibly infectious lines, only to be turned away because they weren’t actually suffocating. An internet joke proposed that the only way to find out whether you had the virus was to sneeze in a rich person’s face. [T]he rich had been allowed to buy their way out of military service and hoard gas masks. As the contagion has spread, its victims have been likely to be poor, black, and brown people. The gross inequality of our health-care system is evident in the sight of refrigerated trucks lined up outside public hospitals. We now have two categories of work: essential and nonessential. Who have the essential workers turned out to be? Mostly people in low-paying jobs that require their physical presence and put their health directly at risk: warehouse workers, shelf-stockers, Instacart shoppers, delivery drivers, municipal employees, hospital staffers, home health aides, long-haul truckers. Doctors and nurses are the pandemic’s combat heroes, but the supermarket cashier with her bottle of sanitizer and the UPS driver with his latex gloves are the supply and logistics troops who keep the frontline forces intact. In a smartphone economy that hides whole classes of human beings, we’re learning where our food and goods come from, who keeps us alive. The pandemic has also clarified the meaning of nonessential workers. One example is Kelly Loeffler, the Republican junior senator from Georgia, whose sole qualification for the empty seat that she was given in January is her immense wealth. Less than three weeks into the job, after a dire private briefing about the virus, she got even richer from the selling-off of stocks, then she accused Democrats of exaggerating the danger and gave her constituents false assurances that may well have gotten them killed. Loeffler’s impulses in public service are those of a dangerous parasite. The purest embodiment of political nihilism is not Trump himself but his son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner. In his short lifetime, Kushner has been fraudulently promoted as both a meritocrat and a populist. He was born into a moneyed real-estate family the month Ronald Reagan entered the Oval Office, in 1981—a princeling of the second Gilded Age. Despite Jared’s mediocre academic record, he was admitted to Harvard after his father, Charles, pledged a $2.5 million donation to the university. Father helped son with $10 million in loans for a start in the family business, then Jared continued his elite education at the law and business schools of NYU, where his father had contributed $3 million. [W]hen his father-in-law became president, Kushner quickly gained power in an administration that raised amateurism, nepotism, and corruption to governing principles. As long as he busied himself with Middle East peace, his feckless meddling didn’t matter to most Americans. But since he became an influential adviser to Trump on the coronavirus pandemic, the result has been mass death. To watch this pale, slim-suited dilettante breeze into the middle of a deadly crisis, dispensing business-school jargon to cloud the massive failure of his father-in-law’s administration, is to see the collapse of a whole approach to governing. It turns out that scientific experts and other civil servants are not traitorous members of a “deep state”—they’re essential workers, and marginalizing them in favor of ideologues and sycophants is a threat to the nation’s health. It turns out that “nimble” companies can’t prepare for a catastrophe or distribute lifesaving goods—only a competent federal government can do that. It turns out that everything has a cost, and years of attacking government, squeezing it dry and draining its morale, inflict a heavy cost that the public has to pay in lives. All the programs defunded, stockpiles depleted, and plans scrapped meant that we had become a second-rate nation. Then came the virus and this strange defeat. The fight to overcome the pandemic must also be a fight to recover the health of our country, and build it anew, or the hardship and grief we’re now enduring will never be redeemed. Under our current leadership, nothing will change. If 9/11 and 2008 wore out trust in the old political establishment, 2020 should kill off the idea that anti-politics is our salvation. But putting an end to this regime, so necessary and deserved, is only the beginning.
We’re faced with a choice that the crisis makes inescapably clear. We can stay hunkered down in self-isolation, fearing and shunning one another, letting our common bond wear away to nothing. Or we can use this pause in our normal lives to pay attention . . . We can learn from these dreadful days that stupidity and injustice are lethal; that, in a democracy, being a citizen is essential work; that the alternative to solidarity is death. After we’ve come out of hiding and taken off our masks, we should not forget what it was like to be alone.

More Saturday Male Beauty

Hopefully Trump Is Self-Destructing Before Our Eyes

The lies and insanity coming from Donald Trump's daily coronavirus briefings is so overwhelming that a number of Republican elected officials are whispering that the briefings need to stop.  Daily, Trump provides Joe Biden and other Democrats with material for future political ads that underscore his utter incompetence.  Trump's latest off the charts batshitery was to suggest that injecting humans with disinfectants would be a cure for Covid-19.  Yes, it would be a cure alright, the patient would be dead and the virus thus defeated. As the New York Times reports, both manufacturers of disinfectants and health officials have rushed to urge people to NOT follow Trump's suggestions: 

[Maryland's] Emergency Management Agency had to issue a warning that “under no circumstances” should any disinfectant be taken to treat the coronavirus. In Washington State, officials urged people not to consume laundry detergent capsules. Across the country on Friday, health professionals sounded the alarm.
Injecting bleach or highly concentrated rubbing alcohol “causes massive organ damage and the blood cells in the body to basically burst,” Dr. Diane P. Calello, the medical director of the New Jersey Poison Information and Education System, said in an interview. “It can definitely be a fatal event.”
Even the makers of Clorox and Lysol pleaded with Americans not to inject or ingest their products.
The frantic reaction was prompted by President Trump’s suggestion on Thursday at a White House briefing that an “injection inside” the human body with a disinfectant like bleach or isopropyl alcohol could help combat the virus.
One has to wonder when my Republican friends will finally admit that the elected a lunatic to the Oval Office.  Not a day goes by without numerous lies and falsehoods being disseminated by Trump.  It's so bad that CNN now has a daily piece that reviews the prior evening's falsehoods.  A column also in the Times speculates that Trump is self-destructing before our eyes (although probably not in the eyes of his knuckle dragging, racist base, some of whom may try Trump's suggested "cure").  Here are column highlights:

Tens of thousands of Americans die; what does the president do? Spreads bad information. Seeds false hope. Reinvents history, reimagines science, prattles on about his supposed heroism, bellyaches about his self-proclaimed martyrdom and savages anyone who questions his infallibility. In lieu of leadership, grandstanding. In place of empathy, a snit. And he’s going to get re-elected.
With that refrain we perform a spiritual prophylaxis. We prepare for despair. . . . We began to treat a verbal tic as inevitable truth.
It isn’t. While Trump may indeed be careening toward four more years, it’s at least as possible that he’s self-destructing before our eyes.
Maybe a toasty beam of sunlight is all that we need to wipe out the coronavirus? What if we just injected disinfectant into our veins? He floated both of those fantasies on Thursday, when he might as well have stepped up to the lectern in a tin foil hat. They’re the ramblings of a dejected, disoriented and increasingly desperate man.
As Katie Rogers and Annie Karni reported in The Times, [Trump] the president feels isolated and embattled and is panicked that he’ll lose to Joe Biden in November. That state of mind, they wrote, prompted his executive order to halt the issuing of green cards, which is precisely the kind of base-coddling measure that he resorts to “when things feel out of control.”
He can read the polls as well as the rest of us can, and they show that while he stands there nightly in the White House briefing room and blows kisses at himself, Americans aren’t blowing kisses back. A month ago there was much ado about a slight uptick in Trump’s job-approval numbers. But the real story was the slightness: Past presidents had experienced greater bumps during crises, when Americans tend to rally around their leader. For Trump there was no such rallying — just a grudging, incremental benefit of the doubt. A fleeting one, too. His uptick quickly took a downturn, reuniting him with his anemic norm. According to the polling average at FiveThirtyEight as of late Friday afternoon, 52.5 percent of Americans disapprove of his job performance. Only 43.4 percent approve. Other numbers tell an even scarier story for Trump. In all three of the battleground states that enabled his Electoral College victory three and a half years ago, he’s currently behind Biden — by 6.7 percentage points in Pennsylvania, 5.5 in Michigan and 2.7 in Wisconsin, according to the averaging of recent polls by RealClearPolitics. That website also puts him behind by 3.2 points in Florida, a state he won in 2016 and must win again. According to monthly polling by Gallup, the percentage of Americans who indicated satisfaction with the way things were going in the country plummeted to 30 percent in mid-April from 42 percent in mid-March. Only twice before in the past two decades has there been a one-month decline that precipitous.
Maybe this drop was less a referendum on Trump’s stewardship than a recognition of the coronavirus’s devastation. But maybe not: Surveys reveal that a significant majority of Americans believe that he acted too late to stem the virus’s spread. He’s also out of step with most Americans’ appraisal of what will and won’t be safe in the immediate future.
In a Washington Post-University of Maryland poll, 65 percent of Americans said it could take until June or later for gatherings of 10 people or more to be safe. And in a Yahoo News/YouGov poll, only 22 percent of Americans supported the protesters who have been demanding an end to their states’ restrictions, while 60 percent opposed them. President Trump has egged those protesters on.
Is he following some gut instinct or just flailing? I vote for the latter. Lately he has contradicted himself at a whole new pace and to a whole new degree, and he has undercut his own party’s talking points.
Republicans have developed a strategy to evade any responsibility for Trump’s response to the pandemic by blaming and demonizing China. “But there is a potential impediment to the G.O.P. plan — the leader of the party himself,” Martin and Haberman wrote, noting that Trump has “muddied Republican efforts to fault China” by continuing to curry favor with President Xi Jinping. Also, Trump’s most optimistic pronouncements about imminent deliverance from the current misery represent a bigger gamble than the many others he has taken. If he’s wrong, there’s not going to be any hiding it. If he’s reckless, the toll is Americans’ very lives. There’s incessant talk of how fervent his base is, but the many Americans appalled by him have a commensurate zeal. For every Sean Hannity, there’s a Rachel Maddow. For every Kellyanne Conway, a George Conway. She and her ilk may be wily in their defense of the president. He and his tribe are even better in their evisceration of him.
And what of the diaspora of refugees from the Trump administration: people like Rick Bright, the government scientist who says he was just stripped of his leading role in the search for a coronavirus vaccine because he wouldn’t parrot Trump’s cockamamie talking points? I predict that as November nears, more and more exiles will speak out, sharing alarming accounts of life inside the president’s hall of mirrors. Trump in turn will mutter about the “deep state,” but the phrase won’t fly when he’s left with such a shallow pool of charlatans around him — and when he’s making such a repellent fool of himself.
Don’t tell me that his nightly briefings are just a new version of the old stadium rallies; their backdrop of profound suffering makes them exponentially harder to stomach. Americans who take any comfort from them were Trump-drunk long ago. The unbesotted see and hear the president for what he is: a tone-deaf showman who regards everything, even a mountain of corpses, as a stage.

I sincerely hope the author is correct.

Saturday Morning Male Beauty

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Trump Regime Moves to Scrap Protections for LGBT Healthcare Patients

Trump, Pence and HHS Secretary Azar.
With the Covid-19 pandemic raging one would think that the main focus of the Trump/Pence regime would be on insuring that all Americans have access to quality healthcare without any obstacles.  Sadly, that would be a false assumption.  As Politico is reporting the Trump/Pence regime is continuing on its quest to roll back Obama administration policies that protected LGBT individuals from discrimination and the refusal of medical services which in the LGBT context are part of Trump's efforts to impose the anti-LGBT license to discriminate laws  Trump's motivation for with such vile actions?  To maintain his support among evangelical Christians and Christofascists who cannot tolerate any regulations or policies that restrict their ability to mistreat those they deem "other" and who have a sick need to look down upon others in order to feel superior.  Here are highlights from Politico:
The Trump administration is moving to scrap an Obama-era policy that protected LGBTQ patients from discrimination, alarming health experts who warn that the regulatory rollback could harm vulnerable people during a pandemic.

The health department is close to finalizing its long-developing rewrite of Obamacare’s Section 1557 provision, which barred health care discrimination based on sex and gender identity. The administration’s final rule on Thursday was circulated at the Justice Department, a step toward publicly releasing the regulation in the coming days, said two people with knowledge of the pending rule. The White House on Friday morning also updated a regulatory dashboard to indicate that the rule was under review. Advocates fear that it would allow hospitals and health workers to more easily discriminate against patients based on their gender or sexual orientation.
The Obama administration moved to create its non-discrimination protections in response to advocates and health care experts who said that LGBTQ patients were being turned away from necessary care or intimidated from seeking it out. The broad rule also offered specific protections for transgender patients for the first time and extended protections for women who had abortions. But a federal judge in 2016 blocked those protections following a lawsuit from religious groups, and the Trump administration has steadily worked to weaken the rule before it could take full effect.
In last year's proposal, the health department also proposed changes that went further than simply rolling back the new Obama protections, moving to eliminate similar nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ patients that were contained in other regulations.
"If the final rule is anything like the proposed rule, HHS is adopting changes that would be harmful in the best of times but that are especially cruel in the midst of a global pandemic that is disproportionately affecting vulnerable communities and exacerbating disparities,” said Katie Keith, a lawyer and Georgetown professor who’s tracked the rule.
The health department's top civil rights official also defended the administration's approach to vulnerable populations. “As we have shown in our recent efforts to protect persons from disability and age discrimination during the pandemic, HHS will vigorously enforce civil rights laws as passed by Congress, before, during, and after any rulemaking,” Roger Severino, the HHS civil rights chief, said in a statement. Severino was an active critic of the Obama-era non-discrimination rules before joining the administration. Any rule issued by the Trump administration on LGBTQ protections could be short-lived. The Supreme Court is set to rule on whether the Civil Rights Act protects LGBTQ workers, which could create a new regulatory framework and force health officials to swiftly return to the drawing board.

Given the Trump/Pence regime's anit-LGBT agenda - and that of the GOP in general, I find it dumbfounding that a small percentage of gays continue to call themselves Republicans. It makes about as much sense as a 1930's German Jew joining the Nazi Party.

Friday, April 24, 2020

More Friday Male Beauty

The Pandemic Should be a Call to Action on Climate Change

Clear skies over Istanbul with mountains visible.
The Covid-19 pandemic should be a wake up call that some things know no national borders, including climate change.  In addition, travel bans, economic slowdown and greatly reduced use of automobiles has made the impact of human activity on climate obvious as smog and air pollution and water pollution has been reduce to yield clear skies and clear water not seen in some areas in years.  Yet while this stark reminder is before us, the Trump/Pence regime - which so bungled the pandemic response - continues to wage war against clean air and clean water regulations and is loosening offshore oil drilling regulations, refusing to believe in science and pandering to special interest political donors. It's an insane strategy, but then so is the occupant of the White House who unbelievably suggested that humans be injected with (or ingest) lethal disinfectants  to fight the Covid-19 pandemic.  Adding to reasons to fear climate change is the potential release of pathogens long frozen in permafrost and warmer temperatures that will allow some diseases to spread to regions where they have heretofore not been a problem.  A piece in the Washington Post looks at what should be a wake up call but which is being ignored by the Trump regime and many on the lunatic far right.  Here are excerpts:
Travel bans and lockdowns have cleaned the globe, flushing the murk from Venice’s canals, clearing Delhi’s polluted smog, making distant snowy peaks visible for the first time in years from the shores of the Bosporus.

U.S. scientists still predict 2020 will be the hottest year on record, even as experts forecast the largest annual drop in carbon emissions in modern history — a direct consequence of the pandemic’s freeze on human activity, trade and travel. The crisis isn’t uniformly good news for the planet: For example, satellite data shows that deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon is at its fastest pace in years, with environmental officials otherwise sidelined or preoccupied by the outbreak.
The pandemic is not just a reminder of the human impact on the environment, including the significance of man-made emissions on global warming and air pollution. It’s also similar: an imperceptible menace that knows no borders, overwhelms aging infrastructure and bedevils policymakers and politicians who struggle to grapple with the scale of the threat.

“A good way to think about the coronavirus pandemic is that it is like climate change at warp speed. What takes decades and centuries for the climate takes days or weeks for a contagious disease,” New York University climate economist Gernot Wagner wrote last month. “That speed focuses the mind and offers lessons in how to think about risk in an interconnected world.”
In the Boston Globe, former U.S. secretary of state John F. Kerry pointed to evidence suggesting climate change could be a “threat multiplier” for zoonotic and pandemic diseases. He also took aim at President Trump and other politicians who cling to positions outside the scientific consensus and impede collective action.
“Just as in today’s pandemic, progress has been halted by finger-pointing, denial, replacing real science with junk science, misinformation, and flat-out lies, elevating political hacks instead of scientists and experts, refusal to work with allies and even adversaries, and leaving states and cities to fend for themselves,” wrote Kerry.
“The coronavirus pandemic has delivered sharp and painful reminders of our collective vulnerability and the value of paying very close attention to reality,” wrote physicist Mark Buchanan. “If there’s any good to come out of the current tragedy, it may be in helping to persuade a few people to help tip the scales and get our leaders to take the next looming issue much more seriously.” The Trump administration isn’t quite set on tipping the scales. Stimulus money the White House has been empowered to spend in the pandemic’s aftermath may go to U.S. fossil fuel companies that were already in financial trouble before the crisis.
 But away from the White House, others are seeking to take the lead. Under the aegis of the World Economic Forum, major financial firms — including some that may help manage elements of the federal response to the pandemic — have pledged to divest from fossil fuels. Campaigners are calling for government stimulus to fund sustainable development projects that could build the green economy. The World Bank is proposing linking governments’ post-pandemic spending to greener infrastructure projects and future disaster-proofing. “We all breathe the same air and we’re all going to live with the same rising seas,” Michael Chertoff, a former head of the Department of Homeland Security in the George W. Bush administration, told Today’s WorldView during a webinar this week. “And whatever we may disagree about some things, we’re going to need to sit down with them and our like-minded allies and everybody else and figure out what can we do collectively to protect the global commons against either pandemic diseases or disastrous climate change.” But, as Slate’s Joshua Keating noted, the opposite may well be true . . . . some right-wing parties elsewhere in the West have already seized on the threat of climate change not as a call for collective action, but as a justification for limiting migration and unraveling globalization. “It’s not hard to imagine a future U.S. administration, rather than denying the increasingly obvious reality of climate change, using it to argue that the country needs tougher immigration controls and fewer refugees,” wrote Keating. “The alternative, they will argue, is to be overwhelmed by the human invaders and see our own natural resources depleted in the way other countries already have.”

Insanely, limiting immigration will not halt warming temperatures and rising sea levels.  All it does is play to the hate and bigotry that are hallmarks of the political right in today's America.

Friday Morning Male Beauty

Thursday, April 23, 2020

GOP Congressman: Mitch McConnell is "the Marie Antoinette of the Senate"

After Donald Trump, the man who has done more damage to America and exhibited more disregard of the U.S. Constitution is the ever despicable (and self-enriching) Mitch McConnell.  Now, with states struggling financially with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, McConnell has said that he would prefer that states go bankrupt rather than have the federal government provide financial assistance.  This, from the man who had no qualms giving away $1,5 trillion to the extremely wealthy and large corporations, exploding the federal deficit in the process.  Combined with McConnell's protection of Trump and putting the GOP above the country, McConnell deserves the nickname "Moscow Mitch."  He needs to be voted out of office and he and his wife investigated.  A piece in Salon looks at even a Republican calling McConnell out. A piece in Salon looks at McConnell's Marie Antoinette comparison (which probably is slanderous toward Marie Antoinette).  Here are excerpts:
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., caught fire from both parties after telling the conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt on Wednesday that he would rather see states declare bankruptcy — which they cannot do — than wait for expanded federal aid that would demand further deficit spending.
"We all have governors regardless of party who would love to have free money," McConnell said. "I think this whole business of additional assistance for state and local governments need to be thoroughly evaluated."
Hours later, Rep. Pete King, R-N.Y., publicly rebuked McConnell, calling his Republican colleague's remarks "indefensible."
"To say that it is 'free money' to provide funds for cops, firefighters and healthcare workers makes McConnell the Marie Antoinette of the Senate," King tweeted.
McConnell — who nicknamed himself the "Grim Reaper" — made the remarks the day after the Senate passed a relief bill that excluded the hundreds of billions of dollars in federal aid requested by a bipartisan coalition of governors.
"These continuing losses will force states and territories not only to make drastic cuts to the programs we depend on to provide economic security, educational opportunities, and public safety, but the national economic recovery will be dramatically hampered," Gov. Larry Hogan (R-MD), chairman of the National Governors Association, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.), vice-chair, wrote in a joint letter to Congress last week.
Though McConnell said he prefers the bankruptcy route, President Donald Trump has said he wants to add a relief package for state and local governments in the next round of emergency funding.
McConnell's office published a press release to promote the interview, tossing off the requested funds as "blue-state bailouts," . . . . Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., put McConnell's colleagues on the spot Thursday morning, tweeting: "Republican Senators: Raise your hand if you think your state should go bankrupt."
King and Schumer both veterans of Congress  — King has represented parts of Long Island since 1993 — have teamed up against McConnell before. In the wake of last summer's mass shooting at a San Antonio Wal-Mart, the pair called on McConnell to call an emergency session to vote on a background check bill that passed in the lower chamber.
McConnell's Senate office could not be immediately reached for comment. His campaign redirected Salon's request to his Senate office.

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Senate Intelligence Committee Confirms Russia Interfered in the 2016 Election to Aid Trump

Among the thousands of lies that issue from Donald Trump's lips is that claims that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election to aid him is a hoax.  A myth created by the "deep state" he fantasizes about but which does not exist.  Now, the U.S. Senate Intelligence, chaired by a Republican and with a Republican majority has issued its long awaited report and confirmed what the intelligence agencies concluded long ago: Russia interfered in the election with the direct goal of aiding in Trump's election.  Sane, thinking Americans already grasp this fact, but don't hold your breath waiting for the Trump base to ever accept that they were played by Putin.  That would run counter to their mental capabilities and against their deep seated bigotries that Trump and Putin skillfully played. The Washington Post looks at the Intelligence Committee findings.  Here are highlights:
THE SENATE Intelligence Committee has released a bipartisan report with a stark bottom line: What President Trump calls the “Russia hoax” isn’t a hoax at all.
The fourth and latest installment in lawmakers’ review of Moscow’s meddling examines a January 2017 assessment by the nation’s spy agencies that Mr. Trump has repeatedly attempted to discredit — and confirms it, unanimously. Russia sought to subvert Americans’ belief in our democracy, bring down Hillary Clinton and bolster her rival. That these legislators from both sides of the aisle are willing to say as much after three years of thorough investigation is an encouraging sign of some independent thinking still left in government. It’s also a reminder of the peril this independence is in today.
The committee members conclude that the intelligence community produced a “coherent and well-constructed . . . basis for the case of unprecedented Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election” despite a tight time frame.
 The Senate Intelligence Committee deserves accolades for its clear-eyed examination of a subject that shouldn’t be political but has become polarizing thanks to the president’s provocations. Yet lawmakers wouldn’t have had a report to analyze at all if it weren’t for an intelligence community willing to dig up inconvenient truths. This is the community Mr. Trump is slowly destroying, most recently by firing his director of national intelligence and nominating an unqualified loyalist to fill the slot, as well as by dismissing Inspector General Michael Atkinson for lawfully alerting Congress about a whistleblower complaint.
The most recent Russia report is a reminder of the need to protect our elections against a repeat performance, whether by disrupting online influence campaigns, securing critical infrastructure or requiring paper trails and risk-limiting audits at the ballot box. But it’s also a reminder of the need to protect the intelligence community from co-option by a leader hostile to any truths that threaten his power.

Thursday Morning Male Beauty

The "Reopen" Protests Are Anything But Spontaneous

Billionaire Robert Mercer.
As intimated in yesterday's posts, the "Reopen the Economy" protests that have sprung up in various parts of the country are intended to appear as "grass root" and spontaneous events organized by working class Americans yet the reality is something quite different.  Indeed, like the "Tea Party" movement that erupted after Barrack Obama's election, these  protests are being funded and organized by right wing organizations, many funded by billionaires with organizing efforts coming from right wing operatives, some with ties to the White House. Further coordinating the effort is Fox News, the perennial propaganda network of the far right.  Some of the names include familiar billionaires of the right wing: Koch, DeVos, Mercer - all opponents of democracy and progressive values - whose organizations are playing key roles in manipulating the Trump faithful, racists and white supremacists.  A piece in the New York Times looks at this reality.  Here are excerpts:

I frst became aware of the political influence of Charles and David Koch in 2009 when I started looking into who was behind the protests at health care town halls.
The Tea Party, formed after America elected its first black president, used a series of health care town halls to spur angry Republicans to oppose the Affordable Care Act as a socialist takeover of American medicine. Little matter that it was modeled on a plan devised by Mitt Romney, a Republican, when he was the governor of Massachusetts.
Such false claims about the act have not aged well, as millions of Americans now depend on the law for health care coverage as the coronavirus contagion sweeps across the nation. And yet a Tea Party co-founder, Mark Meckler, is using the same tactics and same phony claims to stir his followers to protest against governors seeking to mitigate the Covid-19 death toll by closing businesses and banning public gatherings.
That public anger is both real and manufactured. The same was true in 2009, when the Koch fortune fueled the Tea Party’s attacks on the Obama administration’s health care law.
As we face Tea Party 2.0, let’s not be fooled again.  The protests playing out now have the same feel as the Tea Party protests aided by Koch-financed Americans for Prosperity and others a decade ago — and with good reason: Early evidence suggests they are not organic but a brush fire being stoked by some of the same people and money that built the Tea Party.
Look no further than the first protest organized by the Michigan Conservative Coalition and the Michigan Freedom Fund . . . . to see that the campaign to “open” America flows from the super rich and their front groups.
Stephen Moore — a fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a Koch ally and a Trump adviser — admitted as much in a video I obtained comparing these new protesters to Rosa Parks, as first reported in The Times.
Mr. Moore, who is now leading an enterprise to end the virus precautions called Save Our Country, which includes the Koch-backed American Legislative Exchange Council, boasted that he has been working behind the scenes with a conservative donor who agreed to cover bail and legal fees for demonstrators who get arrested for defying Wisconsin’s virus protective measures.
Others are providing legal assistance as well. The Times reports that a private Facebook group called Reopen NC has retained the legal services of Michael Best & Friedrich, a Wisconsin law firm whose clients include President Trump. The firm is well known for its work with dark-money groups that fought the recall of the Koch ally Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin and waged war on unions.
Then there’s the Convention of States, established in 2015 with a big contribution from the conservative hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer. The group recruits activists at gun shows to support a balanced-budget amendment and is promoting the protests online via “Open the States.
[T]his week one of Mr. Meckler’s organizers told supporters via Facebook that “optics are everything” and that they should be sure to wear a mask to the protests and stand six feet apart — because it will make the crowds look bigger.
COS and a Koch-financed public relations firm, In Pursuit Of, are also purchasing domain names tied to protests to open the states, suggesting they are investing for a long battle — even as the death toll rises.
The consequences are already starting. One week after a Kentucky protest, the state experienced its largest spike in coronavirus cases. Other states may soon see similar spikes.
Those fanning these flames, including President Trump and Fox News hosts, are unlikely to get burned by infection themselves, though they may be goading their followers to risk their health by attending mass demonstrations.
America is now facing three calamities: a deadly contagion, a capricious president and a well-funded right-wing infrastructure willing to devalue human life in pursuit of its political agenda. Some very rich men and women are making this medical disaster worse through their reckless bellows, inflaming people to demand that states open now no matter how many lives that costs.
The Trump base, of course will never grasp the fact that they are being used yet again,  They are too blinded by their bigotry and hatred of others to open their eyes and realize they are being played for fools - again.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

More Wednesday Male Beauty

Trump's Cynical - and Racist - Re-election Strategy

A piece in the Washington Post looks at who is funding and organizing the anti-lock down protests and the reality that, while aimed at looking like a "grass roots," they are being backed by billionaires, including some of the most far right vulture capitalists.    True to form, Trump devotees are being duped into playing a role in Trump's re-election strategy which, as in 2026, has a strong racist element and is intended to mask Trump's epic failures in handling the coronavirus pandemic and the fact that he doesn't actually give a rats ass about the fools being duped into participating in the anti-lock down protests.  As a lengthy column in the New York Times lays out, it is all part of a cynical strategy to use racism (it is no coincidence that the anti-lock down protests all feature Confederate flags even in places like Michigan) and rural voter hatred of educated and culturally elite cities to boost right wing turnout in November 2020.  It's cynicism is disgusting, but then again, Trump (like his billionaire sycophants) only cares about himself.  Here are column highlights: 
President Trump has chosen his pandemic re-election strategy. He is set on unifying and reinvigorating the groups that were crucial to his 2016 victory: racially resentful whites, evangelical Christians, gun activists, anti-vaxxers and wealthy conservatives.
Tying his re-election to the growing anti-lockdown movement, Trump is encouraging a resurgence of what Ed Kilgore, in New York magazine, calls “the angry anti-government strain of right-wing political activity that broke out in the tea-party movement — a movement now focused on ending the virus-imposed restrictions on many aspects of American life.
Jeremy Menchik, a political scientist at Boston University, . . . . makes the point that anti-quarantine protests . . . will distract the electorate. If the election is a fight between Trump vs governors who refuse to open their economies, Trump doesn’t have to defend his record on Covid-19. He’s an advocate for liberty!
Studies of the 2009-10 Tea Party movement, Menchik writes, suggest that “continued protests will boost conservative turnout in Nov 2020.”
Casting the coronavirus epidemic as a wedge issue, Trump is playing both ends against the middle, in an attempt to veil his own inconsistencies. Following up on this idea, Noah Rothman, associate editor of Commentary, asked on April 20: “Can Trump Be All Things to All People?”
The calculation underlying Trump’s “liberate” crusade was revealed in a comment on the Facebook page of Pennsylvanians Against Excessive Quarantine:
The eastern border, Philly, and the western border Pittsburgh, is what is causing the state to stay shut down. What about the rest of us??
In other words, Trump and his followers want to place the onus for the social and economic restraints that are still in effect in much of the country on cities, many of them heavily black, where the coronavirus has been most destructive.
Along similar lines, Carol Hefner, co-chair of Trump’s 2016 campaign in Oklahoma and an organizer of an anti-lockdown protest in Oklahoma City, told KOMO TV News on April 15: “We’re not New York. Their problems are not our problems.”
Trump continues on a well-trodden path as he promotes the corona-liberation movement — stigmatizing inner-city dwellers, scapegoating “foreigners” and blaming the Covid-19 pandemic on China.
The demonization of China, Celinda Lake, a Democratic pollster, noted in an email, . . . is central to his strategic racism. Trump uses this wedge to solidify and turn out his base and persuade white, blue collar voters. Trump believes strategic racism worked for him in 2016 so why not 2020?
On April 21, Trump resumed his assault on immigrants, issuing an order blocking new green cards and instigating a 60-day moratorium on immigration: “I will be issuing a temporary suspension of immigration into the United States,” he said during the daily White House coronavirus briefing. “By pausing, we’ll help put unemployed Americans first in line for jobs. Steve Schmidt — a former Republican consultant and prominent Never Trumper who served as a senior adviser to John McCain’s 2008 presidential bid — described the shape he saw Trump’s 2020 re-election drive taking. As the “administration continues to lie, fumble and flounder,” Schmidt wrote in an April 17 Twitter thread, . . get ready for the noxious blend of Confederate flags, semiautomatic weaponry, conspiracy theorists, political cultists, extremists and nut jobs coming to a state Capitol near you.
The 2020 incarnation of the Tea Party, Schmidt continued, will be stoked by Trump every step of the way as they help make the air fertile for his blame gaming, scapegoating, evasions of responsibility, populist fulminations and nationalist incitements. They will be on TV every night storming the battered ramparts of our politics and civics.
Thomas M. Nichols — a professor at the Naval War College who abandoned the Republican Party in 2018 — succinctly described on Twitter on April 19 how Trump’s alignment with anti-shutdown forces works: This is perfect for the Angry White Trumper: People in blue states, guided by the elites and know-it-alls they hate, stealing a march on them by being better and more civic minded citizens than they are. So now it’s ‘fighting tyranny,’ because they’ve got nothing else.
The key battleground states in the Midwest are rich soil for the tactics outlined by Lake, Schmidt and Nichols.
The racial divisions in the Midwest, Austin writes, were crucial to the outcome of the 2016 election: Racially divided regions such as Detroit, Cleveland, and Milwaukee fed the rise of Donald Trump, with his scapegoating of people of color and nostalgic appeals to white working-class voters yearning for a return to the “good old days.”
Bringing the issue back to the present election, Austin pointed out: In our state capital of Lansing, an April 15 rally ostensibly protesting social distancing measures was notable for its participants’ use of Trump and Confederate iconography.
The pandemic has, in turn, inspired a renewed Christian right critique of America’s cities. . . . . the unbelievers whom Erickson contends populate American cities are getting their comeuppance: “Those who’ve had a good life now outside the presence of God will find nothing good while those who believe will live in splendor.”
Trump is egging on lockdown protesters in order to generate enthusiasm and drive turnout on Election Day, but Ron Brownstein, writing in The Atlantic, warns that this gambit could backfire.
The Coronavirus pandemic appears destined to widen the political divide between the nation’s big cities and the smaller places beyond them. And that could narrow Donald Trump’s possible pathways to re-election.
Will Bunch, a columnist for The Philadelphia Inquirer, is more outspoken in his critique of Trump and the coronavirus liberation movement, arguing that the protesters are unknowingly fronting for the wealthiest Americans: Right-wing special interests, like the billionaire family of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, are terrified that the 22 million unemployed will demand a social welfare state.
Their goal? To “shift blame away from Trump’s multiple failures on the coronavirus and instead onto public-health-minded governors.”
“These billionaires and millionaires,” Bunch continued, “have zero moral qualms about working with some of the worst white-supremacists or neo-fascists in order to make sure a crowd turns out.”
Trump faces the cold reality of a health care crisis — and that voters may not give him as much leeway as in the past: This may be one instance in which reality and personal experience stand up to political bluster and misstatements. Undoubtedly, many Trump supporters will stick with him and regard the public health response to the Covid-19 pandemic as a costly overreaction. But there will also be political moderates and independents who regard the administration and president as increasingly incompetent in a domain in which it really matters.
More than anything, Trump is a gambler and he is taking a high risk approach to re-election. Given public wariness of his handling of the pandemic — and much else — and the recent drop in his favorability rating, he may have no other choice than to stake his political future on his ability to turn the anger and frustration of his credulous audience to his advantage one final time.