Saturday, May 02, 2020

More Saturday Male Beauty

The Morbid Ideology Behind "Reopen America" Protests

As several posts have noted, the protests to "reopen America" are supposed to give the impression that they are "grassroots" and "spontaneous" actions of patriotic Americans.  Sadly, the mainstream media - especially TV networks - gives them coverage and never looks behind the facade.  In reality, the protests trace to billionaires and money interests (with help from white supremacists) that have funded their organization and manipulated those aggrieved by  the loss of white status/privilege as they are about the economic shutdown.   The goals of the behind the scenes backers?  Actually, there are several, one being to distract from the Trump/Pence regimes utter bungling of the federal government response to the pandemic. Another is to distract attention from the GOP's agenda of A piece in New Republic looks at this malignant ideology behind the protests which in true GOP/right wing form use racism and resentment to play those who have suffered most because of GOP policies.  Here are excerpts:

Photos of the small “reopen America” protests, which have made the rounds on social media over the past week, have revealed a spectacle as cartoonish as it is macabre: a rogue’s gallery of right-wing groups coming together to share in the spirit of defiance and, presumably, tiny droplets of mucusfar right  and saliva. The protests (and their backing by deep-pocketed funders) invited many comparisons to the Tea Party movement of a decade ago. Unlike that movement, these small protests are likely to die out soon. Nevertheless, they have captured something vitally important about how the right is responding to this fraught moment in our recent history.
As jobless claims have soared past an astonishing 26 million with no end in sight, the Covid-19 pandemic may well push the United States into a profound and long-lasting economic crisis. . . . The onset of this immiseration has begun to propel bold ideas and movements from the left to demand a reorganization of the economy and a fundamental shift in political power. But the right is swiftly establishing its own morbid template for how to interpret and respond to both the pandemic and its economic effects.
Republican politicians and right-wing pundits endlessly echo a central claim: “The cure is worse than the disease.” In other words, you can either risk dying from the virus or face certain economic ruin, as if there are no other choices. Their hope is that people already conditioned by an ideology centered on the marketplace, the individual, and the nation will be more likely to believe that their lives and livelihoods are under greater threat from state-ordered economic shutdowns and coercive social measures than they are from the disease. For them, the idea that Covid-19 could ultimately be overcome–even if at great human cost–by working and shopping is more appealing, and even more imaginable, than a new politics of mutuality that might redistribute power and resources in an egalitarian way.  
Recall the Tea Party’s origins during the Great Recession. . . . . Those two animating features of the movement—anti-black racism and opposition to the Affordable Care Act—defined a movement that in essence chose investments in whiteness over the assurance of at least some semblance of health care.
This was followed in the 2016 election by a Republican candidate who surged among voters who had high levels of racial resentment, strong feelings of political powerlessness, and growing economic anxiety (regardless of income level). Donald Trump . . . . demonizing Latinos, immigrants, Muslims, black protesters, and foreign rivals. All of this set the stage for how the right would come to respond to the current pandemic.
The rhetorical oppositions of work to welfare, self-reliance to dependence, individual to state, citizen to foreigner—oppositions animated by race, gender, and class—run deep in American political culture. All are reflected in the politics of the pandemic right now, making for a grim political vision of American freedom.
The dozen or so Republicans in the House of Representatives refusing to wear masks when called to vote on the latest coronavirus relief bill performed precisely that kind of political theater for their constituents. It is meant as a tough-guy taunt, to show their own robustness and the weakness of their opponents. But it also reveals something more pathological. The risky behavior demonstrates vitality precisely because it tempts fate, suggestive of Freud’s death drive, which he described as a force “whose function is to assure that the organism shall follow its own path to death.”
There is now a well-documented relationship between whiteness, status, and morbidity. . . . . over the last few years, there have been long-term increases in “deaths of despair”—overdoses, suicides, alcohol-related fatalities—among middle-aged whites without college degrees. There is much yet to be understood about reasons for this phenomenon, but a sense of the declining status of whiteness appears tightly connected to collective self-harm.
Demands to reopen states provide great cover for the Trump administration, the Republican Party in Congress, red state governors, and the Federal Reserve, who are working to keep current wealth stratifications in place and protect the rich from economic harm—and doing so without much pushback from Democrats. As conditions become more dire, the right will do all it can to enlist the loyalty of middle- and working-class victims of the crisis. Here, the logics of race and nation will become increasingly important.
Many of the demonstrators at the recent protests, repeating Fox News talking points, focused their ire on urban America . . . and beneath it, the racial demonization of black and brown denizens of cities. It is this sentiment that gives cover to Republican resistance to federal spending when couched in language like Mitch McConnell’s opposition to “blue state bailouts.”
Within the Trump administration, the nationalist tide continues to rise. . . . . Defenders of the current political order will continue to do whatever is necessary to protect wealth and privilege. They understand that to address the enormity of the economic crisis would upend the neoliberal consensus of this second Gilded Age, which has greatly enriched a few while systematically dismantling public goods, disempowering workers, and diminishing democratic rule. Their hope is that enough Americans go along with this resistance, even if it kills them. 
Try as I might, I find it difficult to have any empathy for the participants in these protests, not the least because so many are motivated ultimately by racism.  In addition, they refuse to look at themselves as a major cause of their own plight.  Many rejected education, have embraced ignorance, and have supported right wing politicians - like Trump - who have worked against their financial interests. Because of their own bad decisions in many cases they feel their skin color is their only claim to privilege.

Saturday Morning Male Beauty

Religious Services Shouldn’t be Exempted From State Pandemic Regulations

Since June of 2016 when he met with a who's who of the extreme "Christian Right" - folks who, in my view are neither Christian nor right - he has promised to give Christofascists special rights to discriminate and establish their perverse form of Christianity as a de facto established religion. The rights and even safety of all others must give way to the "godly folks'" bigotry and fantasy world view.  With lock downs across the country to protect the health of the public at large, large social gatherings of all types, including church services, have been banned.  In the minds of the Christofascists, this amounts to "persecution of Christians."  The lives and safety of other members of the public simply do not matter.  To pastors and scamvangelists, the real issue I suspect is all about money: no church service equals a drop in cash-flow and less luxurious living for those who fleece their gullible flocks. As a piece in The Atlantic by a former Republican lays out, Trump has been only too happy to fan the flames of the always aggrieved Christofascists.  Here are article highlights:
The antiviral lockdowns have banned most large gatherings: baseball games, sales conferences, college graduations, and religious services.
Religious services are governed by the same rule as other large gatherings. They are neither specially targeted nor specially exempted. Justice Antonin Scalia explained the justification for applying general rules to religious groups in a 1990 Supreme Court decision:
We have never held that an individual’s religious beliefs excuse him from compliance with an otherwise valid law prohibiting conduct that the State is free to regulate.
But over the past three weeks, some conservatives have argued louder and louder that the failure to exempt religious services from the general rules during the coronavirus pandemic constitutes an anti-constitutional attack on religion.
On April 8, the Fox News host Tucker Carlson lamented: “It’s possible that in five days we will see something that we never imagined in this country: Easter celebrations broken up by the police. Of course, you can still go to the grocery store and the pharmacy; you could still have Communion in the produce aisle at Safeway. But churches? We’ll find out if that’s allowed.”
The Fox News host Jeanine Pirro on April 15 praised Michigan protesters who resisted an unnamed “them” who “want to keep us away from churches and synagogues.”
On April 18, Donald Trump retweeted this complaint about Easter restrictions:
Let’s see if authorities enforce the social-distancing orders for mosques during Ramadan (April 23–May 23) like they did churches during Easter. . . . . He added: “They go after Christian churches, but they don’t tend to go after mosques.”
All of this might seem performative victimhood as usual, but on April 27, Attorney General William Barr issued a directive to the 93 U.S. attorneys and the civil-rights division of the Department of Justice to be “on the lookout” for state regulations that discriminate against religious institutions and religious believers.
The sense of persecution that pervades conservative talk has jumped to sway federal law enforcement.
It needs to be stressed at the outset that almost all faith groups in the United States have voluntarily and responsibly complied with public-health restrictions. Two dozen Muslim groups signed a statement on the eve of Ramadan urging Muslims to celebrate the holy month in rituals at home, not in mosques or Islamic centers. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints suspended all services worldwide on March 12. Catholic churches likewise suspended public Mass. Cellphone records confirm that the large majority of Christian worshippers marked Easter at home.
It’s not discrimination when the same health and safety rules are applied equally to all. When states enforce rules against such gatherings, they are not singling out “religious observance.” They are including religious observance on a list defined by the most neutral of possible terms: risk of infection. Churches are bound by fire codes, just like other institutions, and the same principle articulated in Scalia’s 1990 opinion in Employment Division v. Smith applies here.
It’s especially not discrimination to apply universal health and safety rules to religious assemblies when there is ample evidence that religious assemblies—much more than beaches or parks—have proved capable of spreading the virus. An outbreak in Georgia traces to a church funeral in Dougherty County, one in Louisiana to a megachurch that ignored social distancing.
It’s striking that nearly a month after conservative media began complaining, the Justice Department still cannot identify any instances of unfair treatment of worshippers beyond the wish of some megachurches to keep operating as usual in a time of pandemic.
But the purpose of the Trump administration and Barr’s Justice Department is not to defend genuine religious liberties from real-world threats. It is to stoke cultural resentment for political purposes. They are out to get you because they care more about alien Muslims than about authentically American Christians.
As MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough has aptly said, you cannot fight a culture war against a virus. The virus will always win.
But the Trump administration is not fighting the virus, not primarily anyway. Its priority is to fight an election—and to incite fights against governors who are making Trump look bad in comparison as a tactic in that election.
Inviting people of faith, and especially evangelical Protestants, to imagine themselves as victims is today’s incitement. Tomorrow there will be other incitements. And at every turn, public health will be sacrificed—and the people Trump supposedly champions will end up as the victims of the plague that Trump did not start, but that Trump is making so much worse than it had to be.

Friday, May 01, 2020

More Friday Male Beauty

How Trump Gutted Obama’s Pandemic-Preparedness Systems

The Trump/Pence regime continues to try to re-write the regime's bungled response to the coronavirus pandemic, that has ranged from (i) the dissolution of the Obama pandemic directorate within the National Security Council, (ii) a willful blindness to anything that doesn't conform to a right wing ideology, to (ii) Trump's rejection of science and objective facts while pandering to his knuckle dragging base (today he called armed protesters who stormed thew Michigan legislature "very good people"). It is critical in the lead up to 2020 election that voters understand the Trump regime's ineptitude and role in making the pandemic even worse. A piece in Vanity Fair reviews the bungling that is the hallmark of the Trump/Pence regime.  Here are article excerpts:

When the first reported cases of Ebola in Guinea came to light in March 2014, it set off a mad scramble inside the Obama White House to track and contain the spread of the virus, which killed around 50% of the people it infected. Though not nearly as contagious as the current coronavirus, an epidemic, or even a pandemic, seemed possible if the disease weren’t confined to its West African redoubts. The Obama White House had clear protocols and chains of command for these kinds of threats. “The way to stop the forest fire is to isolate the embers,” Beth Cameron, a former civil servant who ran the White House’s National Security Council Directorate for Global Health Security and Biodefense, told me.
In the summer of 2018, on John Bolton’s watch, the team Cameron once ran was one of three directorates merged into one amid an overhaul and streamlining of Donald Trump’s National Security Council. And the position Monaco previously held, homeland-security adviser, was downgraded, stripped of its authority to convene the cabinet.
Obama’s team never faced a crisis as serious as the novel coronavirus, a truly unprecedented challenge. But officials who worked on past crises and experts on pandemic response believe that Trump’s dismissal—and in some aspects, wholesale discarding—of the Obama administration’s preparedness structures and principles, and the current administration’s ideas about government. . . . have left them dangerously unprepared.
“What the administration lacked in February, and still lacks today is articulating an overall strategy for managing this crisis,” a former administration official told me.
Trump has yet to do this. “President Trump has, throughout this, seemed a little schizophrenic about his role, . . . . “On the one hand, he clearly wants all the credit for it when things go right. On the other hand, he has furiously attempted to avoid having to take ownership for the success of the effort…he wants the credit without the accountability.”
The biggest difference between Obama’s approach and Trump has to do with science. “Traditionally, we have had a situation where the response is always scientifically, technically proven,” says a former government official. “Of course there are political considerations. But the options that are presented are fundamentally sound from a scientific perspective.”
In the current situation, the president decides which scientists and governmental organizations are listened to. “We’re seeing that institutions like the FDA and the CDC have been curtailed; their ability to do the right thing has been curtailed,”  . . .
Trump critics are quick to draw contrast between the COVID-19 and Ebola crises. Obama, they assert, was guided by objective facts. “One of the principles [that] President Obama was very clear on when it came to public health crises is you have to be guided by science and facts and speak clearly and consistently and credibly on those issues,” . . . . “President Obama’s view was, we’re not going to be buffeted by the political winds here. We’re going to go with what the scientists and the public health experts tell us is in our best interest,” she said.
The U.S. crisis response structure has not been equipped to span all 50 states. “The very heavily designed around a relatively short duration, very geographically specific incidents, things like hurricanes and earthquakes and tornadoes and tsunamis,” the former administration official told me. The refrain is, “locally executed, state managed, and federally supported.” And the thinking goes, when a locality gets overwhelmed—say a hurricane or a tornado hits—it goes to its state; if that state gets overwhelmed it will go to neighboring states for assistance, mutual aid; and when that system is exhausted, the federal government steps in with additional resources.
It is this federal-support piece that has been missing, sources I spoke with say.
The reorganization and streamlining of the National Security Council in the Trump era, specifically whether Bolton dismantled an office focused on pandemics, has emerged as a point of discussion and competing narratives. At the start of the Trump administration, Tom Bossert held the position and, as an assistant to the president, had the highest rank of commissioned officers in the White House. Cameron recalled that during the presidential transition, Rice pushed for pandemics to be one of the three topics covered in an exercise with the incoming administration.
But when Bolton was tapped to replace H.R. McMaster, Bossert was shown the door and the position was downgraded to a deputy assistant to the president, no longer able to convene the cabinet. . . . Today, the position of homeland-security adviser is vacant.
The role of the homeland-security adviser was created after the 9/11 attacks, the premise being that one person in the West Wing, steps away from the Oval Office, was focused solely on immediate domestic threats. “The idea is you want somebody in the White House who is directly and immediately responsible to the president on these issues,” explained Monaco, who earned the nickname “Dr. Doom” from Obama in the role. . . . you need to have that direction and an ability to quickly break through bureaucratic impediments and move quickly...pursuant to an overall strategy.”
The novel coronavirus is exposing the inadequacies of a cornerstone of Trump’s (and Kushner’s) governing philosophy. “The entire argument behind electing Donald Trump is that business can handle anything better than the government, right? So the entire philosophy, the entire ideology of every senior leader in the White House and that they’ve installed across the federal government is, ‘Get the private sector to do it.
But the problem is, there are some things only the federal government can do, after all. “This is the crisis for this administration, just as every administration faces, that challenges its ideology and worldview to its core and cannot be effectively addressed with that worldview.”
With no sign that Trump is poised to fill the leadership vacuum, sources I spoke with fear the devastation is only beginning. “I think that we will eventually come out the other side, but it’s going to be one where it would take longer and they would lead to more loss of life,” the former government official told me.
Juliette Kayyem, a former homeland-security official in the Obama administration who played a critical role in the H1N1 crisis and the vaccination rollout, was blunt in her assessment. President Trump does not have the capacity to govern a mass vaccine-distribution program because that’s going to be some really hard decisions,” she told me. For instance, who gets it first? . . . . The biggest problem she sees today is, “This president doesn’t make decisions based on objective criteria.”

Is Trump's Ploy to Divide Americans Beginning to Fail?

Donald Trump won election by sowing division and hatred and pandering to racists and Christian extremists.  That game plan has continued from inauguration day through today.  Trump has never made an effort to represent all Americans instead focusing on his 35-40% base where hatred of others is a constant, be it whites losing privilege hating minorities to Christofascists hating gays and others who reject their hate based beliefs (having followed "family Values" groups for over 25 years, their fundraising is ALWAYS based on hate). Now, the pandemic may be eroding Trump's formula as Americans appear to be moving to a more unified mindset as they face a common menace.  Yes, there are the far right protests against lock-down orders, but few have been truly spontaneous and behind the scenes most have been funded and orchestrated by far right billionaires who, like Trump, have hate as their stock in trade, and even white nationalist groups. Sadly, it often takes a common calamity - a hurricane, attacks like 9-11, or now, a pandemic - to drive home the message that we are more alike than different. One recent poll even found that only 29% of Americans believe what Trump says.  A column in the New York Times looks at the phenomenon.  Here are highlights:

Even in a pandemic there are weavers and rippers. The weavers try to spiritually hold each other so we can get through this together. The rippers, from Donald Trump on down, see everything through the prism of politics and still emphasize division. For the rippers on left and right, politics is a war that gives life meaning.
Fortunately, the rippers are not winning. America is pretty united right now. In an ABC News/Ipsos poll last week, 98 percent of Democrats and 82 percent of Republicans supported social-distancing rules. According to a Yahoo News/YouGov survey, nearly 90 percent of Americans think a second wave of the virus would be at least somewhat likely if we ended the lockdowns today.
A Pew survey found 89 percent of Republicans and of Democrats support the bipartisan federal aid packages. Seventy-seven percent of American adults think more aid will be necessary.
According to a USA Today/Ipsos poll, most of the policies on offer enjoyed tremendous bipartisan support: increasing testing (nearly 90 percent), temporarily halting immigration (79 percent) and continuing the lockdown until the end of April (69 percent). A KFF poll shows that people who have lost their jobs are just as supportive of the lockdowns as people who haven’t.
The polarization industry is loath to admit this, but, once you set aside the Trump circus, we are now more united than at any time since 9/11. The pandemic has reminded us of our interdependence and the need for a strong and effective government.
It’s also taken us to a deeper level. The polarization over the past decades has not been about us disagreeing more; it’s been about us hating each other more. This has required constant volleys of dehumanization.
The pandemic has been a massive humanizing force — allowing us to see each other on a level much deeper than politics — see the fragility, the fear and the courage.
In normal times, the rippers hog the media spotlight. But now you see regular Americans, hurt in their deepest places and being their best selves.
Everywhere I hear the same refrain: We’re standing at a portal to the future; we’re not going back to how it used to be.
If you want to be there at one harbinger of the new world, I suggest you tune in to “The Call to Unite,” a 24-hour global streamathon, which starts Friday at 8 p.m. on and various digital platforms. It was created by Tim Shriver and the organization Unite. There will be appearances by world leaders, musicians, religious leaders, actors and philosophers — everybody from Oprah and George W. Bush to Yo-Yo Ma and the emotion scholar Marc Brackett.
When the streamathon was first being organized (I played an extremely minor role) the idea was to let the world give itself a group hug. But as the thing evolved it became clear that people are not only reflecting on the current pain, they are also eager to build a different future.
If you tune in, you’ll see a surprising layers of depth and vulnerability. You’ll see people hungering for The Great Reset — the idea that we have to identify 10 unifying ideas (like national service) and focus energy around them.
Americans have responded to this with more generosity and solidarity than we had any right to expect. I’ve been on the phone all week with people launching projects to feed the hungry, comfort the grieving, perform little acts of fun with the young. You talk with these people and you think: Wow, you’re a hidden treasure.  The job ahead is to make this unity last.

Friday Morning Male Beauty

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

More Wednesday Male Beauty

Is McConnell Trying to Lose the GOP Senate Majority

Mitch "the Grim Reaper" McConnell - huge tax cuts to the
wealthy, but no concern for working Americans.
More than 26 million Americans have lost their jobs, America's GDP dropped 4.8% in the first calendar quarter, and consumer and business spending has dropped significantly, and states and localities are teetering financially as the coronavirus pandemic continues.  Meanwhile, Sen. David Perdue, a Georgia Republican, is sounding the alarm that Georgia is in play and could go blue.  Yet what is Mitch "the Grim Reaper" McConnell's top priority? Having the Senate back in session to work on judicial nominees, no doubt to appoint more far right, anti-LGBT and anti-abortion ideologues to the federal bench. Considering more spending and aid to states and localities - and by extension, thousands and thousands of public employees - is seemingly nowhere on McConnell's radar. A column in the Washington Post by a former Republican looks at McConnell's bizarre priorities that seem to want states to implement draconian employee layoffs further driving up the ranks of the unemployed while dangerously cutting necessary public services.  Here are column highlights:

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) first suggested that instead of receiving any more federal funding, state and local governments should go bankrupt — which would entail layoffs and pay cuts for firefighters, police, public health officials and other critical personnel. Now comes word that when the Senate returns to the Capitol . . . . it will focus “not on the coronavirus but instead on judicial nominations that have long been a priority for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell," NBC News reports.
Let’s review where things stand. The economy shrank by 4.8 percent in the first quarter, which includes only a couple of weeks of coronavirus-related disruption. The second quarter’s GDP in all likelihood will look like something from the Great Depression (as much as a 30 percent drop, according to some experts).
The Post also reports, “Spending by Americans tumbled 7.6 percent, and business investment shrank 8.6 percent, according to the Commerce Department report, which gives the first comprehensive look at how painful the economic fallout from the pandemic has been.” We are buying groceries, but not much of anything else. McConnell and Republicans seem to have learned nothing from economic history: It took three years to climb out of the Great Recession and more than a decade to recover from the Great Depression of the 1930s. Economists say the government was too slow to act and too stingy with aid in the past, mistakes that should not be repeated now.
So McConnell’s response to all this is to tell states to go bankrupt and confirm judges just as matters are about to get much worse for state and local employees. (The Post reports: “Some local governments have already started laying off or furloughing thousands of their workers, and the numbers are likely to grow markedly in the absence of federal aid. . . . Between 300,000 and 1 million public-sector workers could soon be out of a job or sent home without pay.”) The only jobs McConnell seems anxious to fill are lifetime federal judges.
McConnell’s indifference to the burgeoning train wreck in state and local government, we see in poll after poll, is out of sync with voters’ desire for more government involvement and federal aid. The latest Morning Consult poll shows that "74 percent of registered voters, including 84 percent of Democrats and 65 percent of Republicans, agreed that the federal government should be responsible for providing financial support to states during the coronavirus pandemic.” Note, that’s 65 percent of Republicans.
It’s not clear this is even popular in Kentucky, where McConnell is standing for reelection. The University of Kentucky is already laying off and furloughing employees, and the state assembly is cutting libraries and forgoing raises for public K-12 teachers. In Louisville . . . . If no solution is worked out by October 1, the mayor said they will have to consider [laying] off about 1,000 city employees which equals about 20% of all city workers.”
His Democratic opponent, Amy McGrath, is pummeling McConnell for his willingness to bail out large corporations but not his state’s teachers, firefighters, health-care workers, etc. . . . One wonders how Republican incumbents already facing tough reelection races (e.g. Susan Collins of Maine, Cory Gardner of Colorado, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Martha McSally of Arizona) are going to explain this to laid-off first responders, teachers, nurses at city hospitals, librarians and others. Even if McConnell tried, it would be hard to come up with a position and set of priorities more likely to enrage his members’ constituents.

Wednesday Morning Male Beauty

Are You Rich Enough to Survive the Pandemic?

In a past post, the case was made that the coronavirus pandemic has revealed that America is a failed state when the measurement is serving the vast majority of its citizens.  Unlike western European nations, America has a very poor social safety net and how well one survives the pandemic crisis could ultimately come down to how much money one has if not working in an industry deemed essential and still providing an income.  Before the pandemic, upward social mobility in America had fallen precipitously and now one has been chances of upward mobility in "Old Europe" - a Republicans term of derision.  Blinding too many is the continued myth of American exceptionalism - a term bandied about by politicians of both political parties - that ignores and seeks to gloss over America's many systemic economic and social problems. As the pandemic grinds on, the wealthy know they will survive while the least fortunate wonder where their next meal will come from.  A long piece in New York Magazine looks at this reality and makes one wonder if Americans will ever demand the system be improved.  Here are highlights:
There was the pandemic, then there was the storm. Of all the natural disasters, tornadoes lend themselves the most to being read as Providence. Like hurricanes and wildfires, they can level everything in their path, but those paths can also be narrow enough, forgiving enough, to grind one house into debris while leaving the neighboring structure untouched. Metaphors become redundant in the face of such calamity; the thing to which you’d otherwise be comparing it is, too often, what it already is.
But when disaster looms, we grasp for deeper meaning. When the disaster is unfamiliar, our imaginations retreat to more familiar terms, even primordial ones, as with the notion that celestial forces control our fate. The need to ascribe our misfortunes to some grand plan makes it hard not to look for cosmic significance in the tornadoes that ripped through the American South on Easter Sunday, months after the novel coronavirus made itself known on U.S. shores and several weeks after any of us had left the house.
But if recent months have proved anything, it’s that most disasters we otherwise understand as “natural” have an uncanny way of reflecting human design. Randomness isn’t justice, even a perverse form, distributed equitably. It is a test of vulnerability — of your wherewithal to prepare, escape, recover.
The wrong lesson, of impartial vulnerability, will always be there, tempting. As, understandably, will be metaphysical rationales for physical phenomena — faith, myth. These have been instrumental in helping people navigate the otherwise unspeakable. But alongside them an insidious form of self-deception can take root: the lies we tell to reconcile our behavior, good and bad, with our idealized conceptions of who we are as individuals and as Americans. Faced with horrors so vast they make us feel impotent, we tell ourselves that crises invariably bring out our best; there’s no shortage of heroic anecdotes to reinforce this narrative, encompassing emergency response, provision of health care, neighborliness. But more often, these displays are too diffuse, too renegade, to overcome the scale of the disaster itself. The long list of crises that have taken America’s most brutal inequalities and enhanced them suggests the opposite conclusion, that a motivating shame should be our main takeaway from hurricanes Katrina and Maria, the 2008 economic crisis, the forever wars in which we’re now ensnared. For elected officials, in particular, pressure is high to sell a more flattering vision of U.S. culture — one defined by an unshakable belief that America, as a project, is singularly good, noble, and ripe with opportunity even in the toughest of times.
This vision regularly finds itself at odds with reality. Governor Cuomo knows as well as any that the coronavirus isn’t really “the great equalizer,” that generations of inequality cannot be erased simply by giving two people of differing economic backgrounds the same disease. You’d have to bury your head in the sand to ignore the obvious: By almost every metric, those getting the sickest and dying most frequently and being plunged into dire financial straits at disproportionate rates are the same people who were vulnerable and marginalized before the World Health Organization declared a pandemic.
A brief accounting: Hungry people have been stuck in traffic jams at the Forum in Inglewood, California, as thousands of motorists wend their way through the parking lot to pick up free groceries. Twenty-six million Americans have filed for unemployment since the middle of March, and a nationwide strain on food-bank capacity has resulted, with demand increasing by an average of 40 percent. “Lower-income workers, minority communities, communities of color, folks working in service jobs, folks living in public housing, folks with kids who are on the free, reduced lunch programs” . . . . “those are the folks who are really feeling the pain on this. And they were already in pain before.”
One could drive just off the Las Vegas Strip and see dozens of homeless people asleep in a taped-off parking lot while empty but still gaudily lit luxury hotels loomed above them. County officials have been unable to reach a deal with casino owners to house the houseless in their unused hotel rooms, where they might enjoy a modicum of safety and hygiene. Recent actions by the Vegas city council had already criminalized resting on sidewalks for even brief stretches of time; pressed for lodging options, many people were forced into cramped shelters that have since become hotbeds of infection.
Older people have been especially imperiled: for instance, the outbreak at the Life Care Center in Kirkland, Washington, which killed 43 people and vivified COVID’s lopsided threat to the elderly. In nursing homes across the country, 11,000 have already died.
But the suffering is larger still than the dying. Recent polls indicate that as many as two-thirds of Latino adults have lost their jobs or seen their incomes reduced as a result of the economic downturn. Much of this is attributable to Latino workers’ high representation among wage laborers in service and hospitality industries, which have been decimated. Even as American life retreats indoors, ICE raids continue, bringing armed agents into people’s homes and risking the spread of infection, then transporting those they capture to detention facilities known for incubating diseases. In a cruel twist of irony, many undocumented agricultural workers, demonized for years by nativists, have been deemed “essential” for their role in maintaining the food-supply chain. Grocery employees, home health aides, social workers — the essential economy under the coronavirus is rife with traditionally undercompensated professions staffed largely by people of color, especially women . . .
Preliminary data points to some of the bleakest outcomes for black Americans, as anyone might have predicted even before that data began rolling in. Homeless, imprisoned, and impoverished people in the U.S. have and continue to be disproportionately black, with the accompanying health risks: higher rates of diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease, all reliable indicators of whether an otherwise manageable case of COVID could turn fatal. Black victims compose 40 percent of Michigan’s infected dead but 14 percent of the state’s population, for instance. They’re 70 percent of the dead in Louisiana, one of the country’s biggest epicenters outside New York, but just 33 percent of the population.
These are the people whose suffering is neglected when terms like equalizer are reduced to platitudes. But neglecting it in practice, as many officials have, also shapes our expectations of what returning to normal looks like. Social conditions that seemed intolerable six months ago have since acquired the sheen of an idyllic recovery. Getting back to work, earning wages again — these are broad improvements over what we have now that, nevertheless, won’t repair the long-standing circumstances of millions whose bigger problems were always structural. That many of us can’t even begin to expect or even conceptualize this — in a moment so desperate, so damning to the notion that America’s best feature is its ability to manufacture prosperity, a reopening where black doesn’t mean sicker, Latino doesn’t mean lower wages, and poor doesn’t mean unreliable food or housing — reaffirms that for millions, normality is cruel enough.
This is where the history that produced America’s undercastes is hardest to escape, where the flattering delusions that neglect suffering look less like personal coping mechanisms than a national inheritance. When Trump’s surrogates urge people to sacrifice their lives to resuscitate the economy, they aren’t just protecting his reelection prospects; they’re advancing a culture war fueled by resentment toward people who’ve long been understood as unworthy. It’s why Trumpist protesters brandishing the Confederate flag can storm the Michigan capitol calling on the governor to rescind her stay-at-home orders and have the emblem not seem incongruous.
Deception that obscures inequality isn’t just expedient. It infuses tragedy with a tacit moral dimension, where the worst suffering is presumed to be reserved for those who deserve it — whether by being too poor, too black, too proximate to either.
What happens when this magnitude of crisis befalls the entire country? There’s a liberal impulse to treat these disasters as emancipatory, freeing us from the illusion of an equitable status quo, the better to pursue the real thing with our vision unclouded. This might be true for some, though whether their awakening produces the requisite policy response is less clear. I’d say, in fact, it’s doubtful. The reality thus far, rather than solidarity, has overwhelmingly been individuals left to manage the fallout alone, in many cases owing to the absence of infrastructure whereby they might help one another. Dairy farmers in Wisconsin dump thousands of gallons of milk a day, citing less need from schools and restaurants, while food-pantry lines in San Antonio and Dallas stretch for blocks, and there’s no public entity to connect the two.
How societies mitigate the pain they cause at the margins is far more revealing — how much we invest, as Americans, in catching the vulnerable when the floor is ripped from beneath them. We may tell ourselves the pandemic is asking this question of us, but if we had the courage to look clearly, the answer was evident long before this crisis: in how our society distributes suffering, the stories we tell to make it compatible with our national self-regard; how aggressively so many insist on overlooking the foreseeable. The depth of havoc that the coronavirus wreaks on its inevitable victims was, and is, within America’s capacity to determine. We have few insights into the path it’s cutting today that we haven’t had for years and that we weren’t already ignoring.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Tuesday Morning Male Beauty

Nursing Homes Were a Disaster Waiting to Happen Long Before Covid-19

Nursing homes are places to be avoided if at all possible and even having money and being placed in a "good facility" doesn't guarantee one will receive proper care (this happened to a friend last year), especially since many nursing homes are for-profit operations and maximizing profits is the number one concern despite lip service to the contrary.  There are state and federal standards that strive to enforce safety for patients and these were strengthened in 2016 under the Obama administration only to be weakened one year later under the Trump/Pence regime which time and time again places money making big business ahead of the safety of citizens (other examples are the gutting of clean air and clean water regulations). The sad reality is that too often, going to a nursing home is going to a place to die unless one is going for short term rehabilitation.  Most are understaffed and simple measures to avoid infection are all too often ignored.  A column in the New York Times looks at the state of nursing homes which have accounted for 25-27% of all Covid-19 deaths - perhaps more if accurate reporting was required nationwide.  Here are article excerpts:

It was clear almost from the outset that the elderly and frail were in the greatest danger from Covid-19. And it was clear to anyone familiar with American nursing homes that these facilities would not be up to the task of protecting their older and infirm residents.
As of Thursday, Covid-19 has killed over 10,000 residents and staff members in long-term-care facilities in 23 states that report fatality data, about 27 percent of the Covid-19 deaths in those states, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
The weaknesses in patient care and oversight at nursing homes that made those deaths more likely were longstanding, widespread and well known.
One-third of Medicare beneficiaries admitted to nursing homes suffer harm within about two weeks of entering the facility, according to a 2014 report from the federal Office of Inspector General. These are the short-term residents for whom facilities are paid the most and who are typically most able to articulate their concerns if something is wrong. Where does that leave a majority of residents who are in the facility long-term, most of whom are older, frail and cognitively impaired?
Despite the absence of federal reporting requirements, we are seeing that residents and families are being devastated by Covid-19. In New Jersey, an anonymous tip led authorities to a nursing home that was storing corpses in a shed. At least 29 of its residents have died from Covid-19 and many more residents and staff members have been infected. Unsurprisingly, this for-profit nursing home has a history of seriously low staffing and citations for substandard infection control.
The tragedy is that government standards of safety and care at homes certified under Medicaid or Medicare (a large majority) are strong. If enforcement of those standards had not been so lax, the devastation we have seen in nursing homes could have been mitigated.
The federal Nursing Home Reform Act of 1987, and the regulations and guidance through which the law is carried out, most recently revised in 2016, require effective infection control and prevention including hand hygiene and the use of personal protection equipment.The most important precautions against infection are inexpensive and simple, and the most common violations involve simple sanitation and hygiene practices, like hand washing. Nevertheless, infection control and prevention problems were the most frequently cited violation in nursing homes last year.
Such poor care persists because regulators let the nursing home industry treat standards of care as goals rather than actual requirements. The nursing home industry wields enormous influence in Washington and state capitals through multimillion-dollar trade associations, powerful law firms and generous contributions to politicians and political action committees. As a result, nursing homes, rather than nursing home residents, are often viewed by policymakers as the constituency whose interests merit protection. After President Trump was elected, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services started openly referring to the nursing home industry as its “customer.”
Numerous federal and academic studies over the years have found that government inspectors do a poor job finding substandard care and, even when they do, are woefully disinclined to penalize a facility for it.
This is because of the persistent failure to identify when residents have been harmed or put in jeopardy. For example, while pressure ulcers (bedsores) are a potentially life-threatening concern for nursing home residents, proper care can prevent or minimize a vast majority of them. 
Nursing home industry lobbyists often claim that their clients cannot afford to improve conditions because they make so little money. In fact, the for-profit sector of the industry has been growing for years, belying the notion that it is not a profit-generating industry. Profit margins from Medicare reimbursements have been in the double digits for about 20 years, according to the nonpartisan Medicare Payment Advisory Commission. . . . . In addition, nursing home profits are increasing under the new federal payment methodology introduced last October.
So we can’t accept industry excuses about costs or give in to Trump administration efforts to undermine regulatory standards and reduce the already low frequency of inspections. Instead, existing standards need to be more strictly enforced, and tougher standards need to be put in place. Residents’ lives depend on it.
Federal minimum staffing standards are long overdue. A study in 2001 determined that the typical nursing home resident needs about 4.1 hours of care each day just to meet his or her basic clinical needs (not to mention live with dignity). The average facility reports only 3.7 hours per resident per day.
The pandemic has made this worse.
We need to establish how much Medicare or Medicaid funds go to care and limit how much revenue nursing homes can siphon into profits, unrestricted administrative expenses or unaudited contracts with companies they control.
While reimbursement rates for Covid-19 patients are very high, there are no requirements that those funds be used to buy protective equipment, boost staffing or help residents get through this crisis.
A pandemic is a force of nature that cannot be avoided. But years of neglect by nursing homes have left millions of older residents unprotected from it. Many of the deaths we’ve seen could have been prevented. More lives can be saved if we demand more from the industry and from its regulators.

Monday, April 27, 2020

More Monday Male Beauty

Why Trump Failed America

If one is honest, looks at the facts, all of Trump's lies, and considers all the ways that the Trump/Pence regime weakened America's ability to meet the Covid-19 crisis  - e.g, disbanding the National Security Council pandemic directorate, slashing funding for the CDC, and rescinding Obama era regulations for nursing homes that might has slowed the spread of the virus among the  nursing home residents - the only conclusion is that Trump has spectacularly failed America. But even beyond all of this, there is an added reason for Trump's failure: he is a malignant narcissist who lies incessantly and cares only about himself and satiating his unquenchable ego.  All the warning signs were on open display ranging from his boasts about "grabbing p*ssy" without consequence to being able to shoot someone on 5th Avenue without consequence.  Sadly, Trump's calls to racism and religious extremism were followed by many who should have known better even as Democrats in a funk stayed home and by default voted for Trump.  A column at CNN looks at all of this and Trump's very nature that guaranteed his huge failure to safeguard America.  Americans should never again put someone with Trump's mental and psychological illness in the Oval Office - or any high office.  Here are column excerpts:
Watching President Donald Trump wrestle with this epic crisis reminds me of the old fable about the Scorpion and the Frog.
You'll remember that the scorpion asks the frog for a ride across a river, only to sting the frog when they are midway across. When the startled frog asks why the scorpion would repay his kindness so cruelly and kill them both, the scorpion shrugs. "It's my nature." Trump could have made this unparalleled and agonizing trial for our country an occasion for personal triumph — if he were only able to take the personal out of it. But that is not his nature.
This moment of extraordinary pain and crisis calls for steadiness and sobriety; empathy for the widespread pain and suffering of others; absolute transparency; a willingness to listen and learn; and rigorous, disciplined attention to detail. None of these qualities are within his nature.
Many governors across America have enhanced their popularity simply by doing their jobs during this deadly outbreak of the coronavirus. Even in a polarized nation, it might have been the same for Trump if, from the start, he had leveled with the country about the nature of the threat, followed expert advice and made the case for the painful and decisive steps required to save lives.   But that's not his nature. Instead, the [Trump] President spent six weeks dismissing the threat and offering false assurances as public health experts frantically warned what was to come.
 Trump ostensibly feared that an acknowledgment of the severity of the virus and the draconian steps required to protect Americans would tank the stock market and the economy, which he had hoped to make the springboard to his re-election. So he insisted on an alternative storyline. US cases would not surpass 15, he said in February, even as some public health experts warned of a potential pandemic. "Miraculously," he suggested with a flourish, the virus could just fade away with a change in the weather.
 As Covid-19 had begun its deadly march across the nation, Trump was accusing Democrats and the media of politicizing the disease in what amounted to a Coronavirus "hoax" to damage him.
While some governors were mobilizing against the threat, [Trump] the President sent the nation and federal bureaucracy the opposite signal, delaying the necessary steps, which cost the nation valuable time to gird for the battle and deepened the crisis.
 Since the day he finally recalibrated, appearing at the podium in the White House briefing room in March to declare war on Covid-19, [Trump] the President has spent most of his briefing time spinning his administration's uneven and tardy response (which he rated a 10 out of 10) rather than giving the American people the sober and accurate assessment they need. Truth and accountability are not his nature. Americans of all stripes are bound together by a common calamity, hungry for a unifying leader who will rise above partisanship. But that is not Trump's nature. He has suggested that governors, desperately asking the federal government for more testing supplies, were acting out of political motivation.
 Trump is who Trump has been from the beginning of his long career in the public eye: a super narcissist and shameless self-promoter, unwilling to accept responsibility or the truth and unable to think about anyone but himself. If he had been more in this historic moment, it would have done so much to strengthen his brand and his prospects of reelection -- not to mention comfort his wounded country. But it is no surprise that he could not. It's just not his nature.

McConnell’s Rejection of Aid for States Risks Causing a Depression

McConnell: worse person in Washington?
There are few individuals in Washington, D.C., more evil than Mitch McConnell - Trump is perhaps the only one worse.  McConnell had no problem giving a $1.5 trillion tax break to the wealthy and large corporations, most of which used the funds to buy back stock and further enrich their senior officers. Likewise, McConnell and his wife have used their positions to secure all kinds of sweetheart deals and enrich themselves.  Now, with the nation in the grip of a pandemic, McConnell says he would prefer states go bankrupt - cutting all kinds of essential services upon which citizens depend - rather than provide federal aid to states.   When it comes to helping states and average Americans, McConnell's response is "f*ck you" and/or "go die." The man is despicable and has done extreme damage to the nation.  If anyone needs to be stricken by the virus, I'd nominate McConnell.  A piece in the Washington Post looks at McConnell's reckless insanity.  Here are excerpts:
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) would rather see states declare bankruptcy than give them federal aid to deal with the economic collapse triggered by the coronavirus pandemic.
That’s a recipe for turning a potentially short recession into a prolonged depression, according to officials and analysts.
The question of whether Congress and the White House should provide relief funding to state and local governments — as the feds have done already for private business — is about to reach a showdown in Washington.
The stakes are high in our region, where state and local officials say that without federal action they will have to make even deeper cuts than feared in core services such as education, housing and health programs (apart from those required to fight the virus).
Governors, mayors and county leaders of both parties are clamoring for help in the next federal rescue package after McConnell and President Trump blocked such assistance in the $484 billion bill approved last week.
Maryland says the shutdown could cost it as much as $2.8 billion in lost tax revenue in just four months — from March through June.
“I would describe this as worse than the 2008-2009 recession,” Franchot said. “That was a huge fiscal and monetary catastrophe, but we didn’t see 340,000 Marylanders file for unemployment in three weeks.”
In an earlier relief package passed last month, Congress approved $150 billion for state and local governments — but with an important condition. It said the money could be spent only to cover new costs of fighting the virus, and not to replace revenue lost because of the economic slump. State and local leaders are calling for the next bill to eliminate that restriction.
“We’re not going to get out of this pandemic and this budget mess unless the people on the ground instead of people in Washington, D.C., are given flexibility to use the money as they know how to help the economy recover,” Fairfax County Board Chairman Jeff C. McKay (D-At Large) said.
Fairfax is projected to lose at least $165 million over 12 months because of plunging sales tax receipts and other effects of the shutdown. It already has dropped plans to increase spending on affordable housing, early-childhood education and police body cameras.
They [Republicans] said they feared that states and localities would move more slowly to reopen their economies if they received federal assistance. State and local leaders retorted that they will open their economies as soon as public health authorities say it’s safe to do so.
The other argument against federal aid, voiced by McConnell, is that it would bail out states that he said have mismanaged their finances in the past, such as by incurring large pension obligations for teachers and other public employees. In a radio interview Wednesday, McConnell suggested instead that states declare bankruptcy.
The comment drew widespread backlash.
“This is grossly irresponsible with a naive sense of what state and local governments do,” tweeted Amy Liu, director of the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program. “Without emergency relief as their revenues crater, state and local governments will not be able to run key programs like unemployment insurance, social services, housing assistance and small business outreach needed to protect people and businesses in this crisis.
“If you want to send the country into an extended depression, sending state and local governments into bankruptcy is a great way to do it,” said a local government budget expert, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.
Our region’s state and local governments are bracing for severe spending cuts, with the burden expected to fall heavily on two areas that make up a large part of their budgets — education and health care.
Virginia has already suspended plans to increase spending on K-12 education by $540 million over two years, higher education by $356 million and Medicaid by $207 million.
The District is projected to lose $1.5 billion in revenue over the next 17 months. Barring substantial federal aid or tax increases, cuts are expected to fall heavily on affordable housing, education and services that help low-income residents, according to Tazra Mitchell, policy director of the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute.
McConnell’s attacks on states’ fiscal management drew sharp rebukes from area officials. They noted that Virginia, Maryland and the District also have Triple-A bond ratings. Additionally, states, unlike Congress, are required to balance their budgets.
McKay noted: “Fairfax has a Triple-A bond rating and a balanced budget. Compare that to Mitch McConnell’s record on deficits. It’s laughable.”