Saturday, May 23, 2020

More Saturday Male Beauty

Trump Risks Public Safety to Pander to Evangelicals

Trump surrounded by modern day Pharisees.
With numerous nationwide and swing state polls showing Donald Trump trailing Joe Biden, it was only a matter of time before he'd do something to try to stir up his morally bankrupt evangelical/Christofascist base.  Sure enough, he chose to claim to overrule state governors who have placed restrictions on church services in an effort to impose social distancing and slow the spread of covid-19, by declaring churches "essential services" - a totally farcical claim given that nothing about church services is truly essential.  Trump's action - which carries no legal authority - plays to both the persecution complex of the "godly folk" who continue to swear fealty to a man who embodies the seven deadly sins, and to pastors and scamvangelists who have seen their money hauls fall precipitously. The goal, of course, is to further ignite the culture wars which Trump has used to keep evangelicals loyal to him even as they have squandered away what little moral authority they ever had with the larger public.  A piece in the Washington Post looks at this calculated move to whip up this key element of Trump's knuckle dragging base.  Here are excerpts: 
President Trump on Friday called on states to allow places of worship to open immediately and threatened to “override” any governors who do not comply with his demand, opening a new cultural and political fight over when to lift public health restrictions put in place during the coronavirus pandemic.
Trump did not specify what legal authority he has to back up his threat, and White House officials declined to answer questions about what actions he was prepared to take, leaving it unclear how serious [Trump] the president is about following through on his declaration.
Trump said he is deeming places of worship “essential services” that can operate even when other establishments are closed as a safety precaution. “Some governors have deemed liquor stores and abortion clinics as essential, but have left out churches and other houses of worship,” Trump said during a brief appearance in the White House press room as the administration released new pandemic guidance for places of worship. “It’s not right.”
Public health officials continue to warn against mass gatherings or settings in which people will be in close quarters, and note that religious gatherings have been the source of several outbreaks. Some states put congregations in the same opening category as theaters.
Deborah Birx, a leader on the president’s coronavirus task force, added some caveats to Trump’s blanket demand for churches to open now, including that perhaps some church leaders may want to “wait another week” based on local health conditions.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany declined to answer several questions at a briefing about what legal authority Trump had to “override” governors. Asked what he would do if a state prevented houses of worship from opening, she called that a “hypothetical” and did not answer.
Earlier this week, administration officials said the White House was resistant to setting limits on religious institutions even as the CDC issued a detailed road map for reopening other settings, including schools and restaurants, and as the agency warned of the dangers of high virus transmission rates at church events. White House officials have battled with CDC aides for weeks over the guidance.
White House officials have told religious allies that the CDC document is only a guideline, suggesting that church leaders would have [Trump’s] the president’s blessing if they bent the rules.
A University of Chicago Divinity School-AP-NORC poll completed in early May found 51 percent said in-person religious services should be allowed in some form and 9 percent said they should be allowed without any restrictions, while 42 percent said they should be allowed with restrictions on crowd size or physical distancing. Another 48 percent said they should not be allowed at all.
The same poll found 34 percent saying government orders prohibiting in-person religious services “violates freedom of religion,” while 66 percent said this did not.
White House officials have grown fearful that the president’s numbers are slipping among evangelical voters, a key group to fortifying his political base of support, said three campaign advisers who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private discussions.
[In CDC guidelines] Faith communities are asked to consider temporarily limiting the sharing of prayer books, hymnals and other materials; using a stationary collection box, the mail or electronic payment instead of shared collection trays or baskets; and suspending or decreasing choir or musical ensembles and congregant singing during services or other programs. The guidance also noted that the “act of singing may contribute to transmission of covid-19, possibly through emission of aerosols.”
Asked about Trump’s declaration that churches should be considered as essential and fully reopened, [Virginia Governor] Northam stood by Virginia’s policy of allowing services with 50 percent capacity. . . . In Maryland, Gov. Larry Hogan (R) also recently allowed churches to reopen at 50 percent capacity.

Saturday Morning Male Beauty

With Trump Supporters, Trump's Pathology Is the Point

The husband and I have a Republican "friends" who, while generally sane and logical in most ways,  is nonetheless a rabid Trump supporter for reasons I simply cannot fathom.  Going down a list of possible explanations, none seem to fit other than the individual is perhaps a closet white supremacist since they most certainly do not fall into the Christian extremist category. Further clouding the situation is the fact that this individual would be considered by most to be a member of the white liberal elite. The Trump/GOP tax cuts eliminated any possible pretense that one might be a Republican because one favored fiscal conservatism.  Thus, I am at a lost trying to understand this appeal of Trumpism, especially when this person's extreme support of Trump has alienated them from many whom they would like to be accepted by. In a column in New York Magazine Andrew Sullivan conjectures that much of Trump's base has an underlying hatred of of certain portions of the public and it is because Trump offends and upsets the people they hate (i.e., city dwellers, the educated, and the media) that nothing he does shakes his supporters.  Here are article highlights:

It’s perfectly clear by now that the United States does not have a functioning president or administration. It also seems clear that this does not matter to a sizable chunk of the population. They just don’t care — even when it could lead them to lose their lives and their livelihoods. A year ago precisely, Trump’s approval rating was, in FiveThirtyEight’s poll of polls, 53.8 percent disapprove, 41.1 percent approve. This week, the spread was 53.1 percent disapprove and 43 percent approve. Almost identical. None of the events of the last year — impeachment, plague, economic collapse — have had anything but a trivial impact on public opinion.
Neither, it seems, does the plain evidence of Trump’s derangement. Yesterday, at a Ford plant in Michigan, the president reiterated that he was once named “Man of the Year” in Michigan, something that never happened and an honor that doesn’t exist. He insisted that Obama had left no pandemic preparation behind — “we took over empty cupboards. The cupboards were bare” — which is untrue. He said he owned a lot of Lincolns but then he said he didn’t. When referring to the anti-Semite and Nazi-supporter Henry Ford, he ad-libbed, “Good bloodlines, if you believe in that stuff. Good blood. . . . . The official taxpayer-funded White House trip was also used to give an overtly partisan campaign speech, breaking the law. Just one completely bonkers day from a president who has effectively refused to do the job.
Count the objective COVID-19 failures in 2020 alone. The president was briefed on the looming viral threat, both internally and externally, multiple times in January. But he does not read his briefings — he doesn’t actually read anything — and is uniquely un-briefable in person, according to a story in the New York Times: “‘How do you know?’ is Mr. Trump’s common refrain during his 30- to 50-minute briefings two or three times a week. He counters with his own statistics on issues where he has strong views, like trade or NATO. Directly challenging him, even when his numbers are wrong, appears to erode Mr. Trump’s trust, according to former officials, and ultimately he stops listening.” In other words, the officials who tell him things he doesn’t want to believe are soon sidelined or fired. This is the behavior of a 2-year-old. In a man in his 70s, it’s a form of pathology.
He was told by the National Security Council, and even in a memo by his favored protectionist, Peter Navarro, that if action were not taken swiftly [to limit travelers from China], half a million Americans could die. But he never read the memo — he doesn’t seem to read any memos — and demurred from doing anything about it.
[T]hese are delusional attempts to describe his own fantasies as an objective reality — like how the Russians did not try to interfere in the 2016 election, his inauguration crowd was way bigger than Obama’s, tariffs are paid by the Chinese government, and that anyone in America could have gotten a COVID-19 test. This is a form of psychological disorder.
When the CDC’s Nancy Messonnier finally warned the public in clear terms on February 25 that they should get ready for a serious ordeal, Trump exploded that her statement had upset the stock market. By that point, he was dug in, and conceding reality was too much for his psyche to bear. He believed that if he said COVID-19 wasn’t a threat, it wouldn’t be. When the deaths started mounting, and the cases soaring, he did accede grudgingly to a lockdown, along with masks and social distancing. But it didn’t last long.
I know we’re used to it, but there is no rational or coherent explanation for any of this. There is no strategy, or political genius. There is just a delusional pathology in which he says whatever comes into his head at any moment, determined entirely by his mood, which is usually bad. His attention span is so tiny and his memory so occluded that he can say two contradictory things with equal conviction repeatedly, and have no idea there might be any inconsistency at all.
His COVID-19 press conferences were proof of his mental limits. He couldn’t understand basic questions. He had no grip on epidemiology. . . . He grossly misunderstands what his scientific advisers tell him — like the notion of getting UV light into the body somehow, or injections involving bleach. And he has revealed an inhuman and sociopathic inability to feel empathy for the sick or the frightened. Asked in a press conference what he’d say to fearful Americans, Trump, instead of knocking the softball question out of the park, dismissed the reporter as “bad.” Pushed to answer a question posed by two consecutive women reporters, he walked out of another presser.
When it was pointed out that what mattered was not the number of tests as a whole but tests per capita, Trump responded: “You know, when you say ‘per capita,’ there’s many per capitas. It’s, like, per capita relative to what? But you can look at just about any category, and we’re really at the top, meaning positive on a per capita basis, too.” I have no idea what he is trying to say and neither does he. But it’s a lie. Per capita, the U.S. is not “way ahead of everybody”: We’re behind Russia, Spain, Portugal, Ireland, Germany, Denmark, Australia, Italy, Austria, and New Zealand.
The key thing, however, is that none of this seems to matter to the supporters of [Trump] the president. For them, the pathology seems to be the point. It is precisely Trump’s refusal to acknowledge reality that they thrill to — because it offends and upsets the people they hate (i.e., city dwellers, the educated, and the media). The more Trump brazenly lies, the more Republicans support him. The more incoherent he is, the more insistent they are. Bit by bit, they have been co-opted by Trump into a series of cascading and contradicting lies, and they are not going to give up now — even when they are being treated for COVID-19 in hospital.
Tribalism is now not just one force in American politics, it’s the overwhelming one, and tribalism abhors reality if it impugns the tribe. But you can’t have both tribalism and public health.
What we are seeing is whether this tribalism can be sustained even when it costs tens of thousands of lives, even when it means exposing yourself to a deadly virus, even when it is literally more important than your own life. We are entering the Jonestown phase of the Trump cult this summer. It is not going to be pretty.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Friday Morning Male Beauty

Beach Towns to New York City Residents: Go Away

Today marks the beginning of the Memorial Day weekend and some beach resort towns do not want visitors from New York City.  Virginia Beach's beaches are open with restrictions - the rest of Virginia's beaches are not - as the City tourism industry hopes the weekend, traditionally when high summer revenues begin - will not be a total washout despite an improving weather forecast (this week has been wretched).  Meanwhile, in New Jersey and beach towns on Long Island are trying to make visits by residents of New York City difficult  through parking restrictions, bans on short term rentals and AirBnB rentals.  It may be a foreshadowing of a very different summer season for many resort towns that are in the catch-22 of needing revenues, but fearing visits from outsiders, especially those from Covid-19 hot spots.  Here are highlights from the New York Times:
In the Hamptons, the locals have put up barricades to limit parking and deployed enforcement officers to ticket outsiders. Jersey Shore towns have banned short-term leases and Airbnb rentals. The Suffolk County executive’s office taunted Mayor Bill de Blasio: “Do your job. Figure out a plan to safely reopen your beaches.”
Since the coronavirus pandemic began, tensions have repeatedly flared over whether too many New York City residents have decamped to outlying vacation areas, potentially taking the virus with them. But now the region appears on the brink of a full-fledged (and nasty) battle over beaches, touched off by the city’s decision to keep its shoreline closed.
In normal times, the Memorial Day weekend start of beach season sparks a mass migration from the city to Long Island, the Jersey Shore and, to a lesser extent, Connecticut. But the closings in New York City have led to a backlash from local officials in those areas, who say they fear that their shorelines will be overwhelmed by an exodus of sun-starved New Yorkers blocked from their own beaches, which can in normal times attract a million people a day.
To maintain social distancing, beaches across the region are moving to limit access to everyone. On the Jersey Shore, some towns are reducing parking and keeping their iconic boardwalks closed, with seaside restaurants providing takeout and delivery service only.
But special rules have also been adopted to keep outsiders away. Westchester County, just north of the city, has restricted its beaches at Playland in Rye and Croton Point Park to county residents. In Groton, Conn., only residents can use Eastern Point Beach on weekends and holidays.
The most sweeping rebuke of outsiders, however, seems to be coming from Long Island, many of whose beaches are convenient to New York City.
The Suffolk County executive, Steve Bellone, closed two county-run beaches — Smith Point, on Fire Island, and Cupsogue Beach, in the Hamptons — to nonresidents. He took to Twitter to chide Mr. de Blasio, who had earlier in the week said restrictions “should not be about any ill feeling toward people depending on where they come from.”
Oyster Bay, Hempstead and Brookhaven, all on Long Island, have also moved to limit access. Farther east, the Town of East Hampton suspended the sale of nonresident parking permits and began enforcing summer beach parking regulations early this year.
Mr. de Blasio, however, has warned that opening the city’s 14 miles of public beaches may pose risks to the strict social-distancing rules that city health officials have credited with helping to ease the peak virus infection rates seen in April.
It is part of a difficult balance Mr. de Blasio has tried to strike between providing critical cooling options without squandering the city’s hard-fought gains in bringing case numbers down.
New York City has had roughly 200,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and more than 20,000 deaths, a toll that exceeds those in most countries around the world.
Long Island has also been a hot spot in the outbreak, with roughly 78,000 cases and roughly 4,400 deaths.
Corey Johnson, the New York City Council speaker, said the solution to the spat with Long Island was simply to open city beaches immediately.  “I’m not sure it’s realistic to believe that people will not attempt to swim this summer,” Mr. Johnson said, “and we don’t want to be arresting people in the midst of this pandemic.”

Thursday, May 21, 2020

More Thursday Male Beauty

Is Arizona About to Go Blue?

Trump with his sycophant Martha NcSally.
Virginia was once a reliable "red state" but as the suburban population grew and demographic changes steadily took place, it swung from red state to purple and now appears firmly in the "blue state" column with Donald Trump being widely detested. There are signs that Arizona may be headed for a shift and Republican advisers are warning Der Trumpenführer that both he and Republican Sen. Martha McSally are in trouble in Arizona.  Like Virginia, much of the GOP concern is focused on the suburbs where Trump and the GOP are increasingly viewed with misgivings if not revulsion. A piece in Politico looks at Arizona and the increased GOP angst over the warning signs in advance of November.  Personally, I wish Trump and the Republican Party nothing but misfortune and defeat in November.  Here are article highlights: 
Senior political advisers to President Donald Trump warned Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell Thursday that Republican Sen. Martha McSally is falling dangerously behind in the critical swing state of Arizona.
Trump’s campaign team was meeting with the president at the White House to discuss the state of play in a handful of battleground states. Toward the end of the meeting, Trump pulled McConnell, who was at the White House to meet with him on another matter, into the Roosevelt Room. The discussion turned to Arizona, where recent polling has shown Trump and McSally trailing.
Trump himself said he was concerned about McSally, according to three people familiar with the discussion. His political advisers told McConnell about recent survey numbers in Arizona and stressed she was losing to Democrat and former astronaut Mark Kelly.
Trump's own standing in the state was also a subject of the conversation.
The discussion comes amid increasing Republican worries about Arizona. An array of recent polls have shown Trump losing to Joe Biden in the state, which Democrats have not won in a presidential election since 1996. Democrats have signaled they intend to make an aggressive play in Arizona.
The Senate race is a particular trouble spot. As Senate Republicans try to protect their majority, McSally has emerged as one of the party’s most vulnerable incumbents. One survey released this week showed McSally trailing Kelly by 13 points.
McSally is also heading into the final six months of the campaign at a substantial fundraising disadvantage. Through the end of March, Kelly had outraised McSally $31 million to $18 million. Kelly, who is the husband of ex-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, is the most well-funded Senate candidate in the country.
The race is center to Democratic hopes of winning control of the Senate. Along with Colorado, Democrats see Arizona as their best opportunity to flip a GOP-held seat.
Republicans have made protecting McSally, a former congresswoman and ex-Air Force fighter pilot, a top priority. . . . . “It’s a fact that Arizona is a battleground state for both the presidential and U.S. Senate campaigns,” said McSally campaign manager Dylan Lefler. "We are confident that the Republican Party is fully invested in keeping Arizona red in November because control of the White House and the Senate depends on it."
Republicans in the state say the president will need to take it seriously this year. They note the state has grown more liberal in recent years, with four statewide offices flipping to Democrats in 2018. That year, McSally lost to Democrat Kyrsten Sinema. She was later appointed to the seat of the late John McCain.
Republicans are concerned. Biden, they say, will be a tougher opponent than Hillary Clinton was in 2016. They also worry that Trump's troubles in suburban areas could prove costly.
"Trump is his own worst enemy with swing constituencies," said Chuck Couglin, who served as a top adviser to former Republican Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer. "His best shot with those voters is to make his opponent less attractive than he is. He will have a harder time doing that with Biden. He will try though."
Arizona is one of two traditionally conservative states Democrats are trying to put in play. They are also planning to compete in Georgia, which Democrats haven't won in a presidential election since 1992. Trump won the state by 5 percentage points in 2016, though recent surveys have shown a tight race.
Democrats say competing in red states will open up multiple avenues for Biden to reach the 270 electoral vote threshold. The party has been mostly focused on three Rust Belt states — Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania — that Trump won by narrow margins in 2016.
A survey released earlier this month showed Biden leading Arizona by 7 percentage points, though Trump advisers insist his numbers in the state are more favorable.
One can hope that Trump remains in denial and ignores his advisers.

Thursday Morning Male Beauty

click image to enlarge

The Four Men Responsible For America’s COVID-19 Disaster

Trump, Azar and Redfield.

With a majority of states now "reopening" their economies, millions of Americans remain unemployed or furloughed and it is unclear when the economy will full recover - some analysts point to late 2021. In this state, the question becomes why was the United States so ill prepared and why was the national response bungled so badly?  A very long piece in Rolling Stone looks at the disastrous federal response and names four individuals as ultimately to blame, starting with Donald Trump who has always treated the pandemic as a PR and political issue rather than a public health emergency.  While Trump set the tone, the disaster was compounded by his appointees who were picked based on ideology and/or ties to far right Christians rather than for the true expertise and competence. In making these flawed appointments, Trump was following both GOP ideology and pandering to leading Christofascists.  The results have proven deadly for tens of thousands of Americans.  Here are highlights from the article which is an indictment of Trump and ultimately the GOP "small government" agenda and obsession with funding cuts to finance tax cuts for the very wealthy (read the entire piece):  
Dr. Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control, flanked Donald Trump at the podium in the White House briefing room. It was February 29th, the day of the first reported U.S. death from the coronavirus, and [Trump] the president fielded an urgent question: “How should Americans prepare for this virus?” a reporter asked. “Should they go on with their daily lives? Change their routine? What should they do?”
A tall man, with a tan, freckled head, and a snow-white chinstrap beard, Redfield stepped to the podium. “The risk at this time is low,” Redfield told the country. “The American public needs to go on with their normal lives.”
This reassurance came at precisely, and tragically, the wrong time. With a different answer, much of the human devastation that was about to unfold in the United States would have been avoidable. Academic research from Imperial College in London, modeling the U.S. response, estimates that up to 90 percent of COVID-19 deaths could have been prevented had the U.S. moved to shut down by March 2nd. Instead, administration leaders dragged their feet for another two weeks, as the virus continued a silent, exponential assault. By early May, more than 75,000 Americans were dead.
Even as he spoke, Redfield knew the country should be taking a different course. The Coronavirus Task Force had resolved to present the president with a plan for mitigation efforts, like school and business closures, on February 24th, but reportedly reversed course after Trump exploded about the economic fallout. Instead, the CDC director continued touting “aggressive containment” to Congress on February 27th.
Experts tell Rolling Stone that ship had sailed when the virus made the leap from infected travelers into the general public. “If you’ve got a community spreading respiratory virus, it’s not going to be containable,” says Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security. “You have to shift to mitigation right away.”
Patty Murray is the ranking member of the Senate’s top health committee, and represents Washington state, the nation’s first coronavirus hot spot. She blames the administration for a delay that “overwhelmed the health care system and resulted in tens of thousands of deaths.” And she singles out Redfield, in particular, for “dereliction of duty.”
“We had ample notice to get our country ready,” says Ron Klain, who served as President Obama’s Ebola czar, and lists the rolling out of testing, securing protective equipment, and building up hospital capacity as necessary preventative steps. “We spent all of January and February doing none of those things, and as a result, when this disease really exploded  in March, we weren’t prepared.”
The government leaders who failed to safeguard the nation are CDC Director Redfield; FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn; Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar; and of course, President Trump. Together, these men had the power to change the direction of this pandemic, to lessen its impact on the economy, and constrain the death toll from COVID-19. Each failed, in a series of errors and mismanagement that grew into a singular catastrophe — or as Jared Kushner described it on Fox & Friends, “a great success story.”
Precious weeks slipped by — amid infighting, ass covering, and wasted effort — and the virus slipped through the nation’s crippled surveillance apparatus, taking root in hot spots across the country, and in particular, New York City.
The mismanagement cost lives. With adequate testing from the beginning, says Dr. Howard Forman, a Yale professor of public-health policy, “we would have been able to stop the spread of this virus in its tracks the way that many other nations have.” Instead, says Sen. Murray, the administration’s response was “wait until it’s too late, and then try and contain one of the most aggressive viruses that we’ve ever seen.”
Blind to the virus’s penetration and unable to target mitigation where it was needed, the administration and state governors had to resort to the blunt instrument of shuttering the economy, says Dr. Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute. And the lack of testing kept us in limbo. “Our economy is shut down because we still do not have adequate testing,” Jha says. “We have been woefully behind from the beginning of this pandemic.”
If the president’s deputies made trillion-dollar mistakes, accountability for the pandemic response lies with Trump, who waived off months of harrowing intelligence briefings, choosing to treat the coronavirus as a crisis in public relations, rather than a public-health emergency. Having staked his re-election on a strong economy, Trump downplayed the virus.
The front-line agency built to respond to a pandemic, the CDC, was placed in unreliable hands. Dr. Robert Redfield is a right-wing darling with a checkered scientific past. His 2018 nomination was a triumph for the Christian right, a coup in particular for evangelical activists Shepherd and Anita Smith, who have been instrumental in driving a global AIDS strategy centered on abstinence.
Redfield championed discriminatory policies that he defended as “good medicine” — including quarantining of HIV-positive soldiers in a segregated barracks. These soldiers were routinely given dishonorable discharges after superiors rooted out evidence of homosexuality, and left to suffer the course of their devastating disease without health insurance.
When his CDC appointment was announced in March 2018, Sen. Murray warned of Redfield’s “pattern of ethically and morally questionable behavior,” as well as his “lack of public-health expertise,” and urged Trump to “reconsider.” But the CDC post does not require Senate approval. Redfield sought to reassure CDC staff that his views had modernized, and that he now embraced condoms to slow HIV infection.
The CDC reports to the Department of Health and Human Services, led by Alex Azar, a former executive for the pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly who gained infamy, in his five-year tenure, by doubling the price of insulin.
Azar is a creature of the GOP establishment: He cut his teeth as a Supreme Court clerk to Antonin Scalia, worked with Brett Kavanaugh on the Clinton-Whitewater investigation under special counsel Ken Starr, and served as a deputy HHS administrator in the George W. Bush era, before becoming Eli Lilly’s top lobbyist.
Azar sought to shrink the CDC, an agency that has been on the chopping block throughout the Trump administration. In HHS’s most recent budget proposal — unveiled this past February, 10 days after the World Health Organization declared a global emergency over the coronavirus — Azar sought an $85 million cut to the CDC’s Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases program and a $25 million cut to Public Health Preparedness and Response. Azar defended the budget at the time as making “difficult, prudent choices.”
The Trump administration had also hollowed out the CDC’s China presence, slashing staff from 47 to barely a dozen. These cuts were part of a broad-reaching drawdown of America’s disease preparedness, including Trump’s decision to disband the National Security Counsel’s pandemic-response team.
Stephen Hahn had been on the job at the FDA for barely a month. A bald, 60-year-old of modest height, Hahn has an impeccable résumé — he served as chief medical executive at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center — but he had no experience running a government agency.
The need to engage the private sector for coronavirus testing was not only foreseeable, it was foreseen — by Trump’s first FDA commissioner, Scott Gottlieb. In a January 28th Wall Street Journal article, “Act Now to Prevent an American Epidemic,” Gottlieb warned that the “CDC will struggle to keep up with the volume of screening.” He said the government must begin “working with private industry to develop easy-to-use, rapid diagnostic tests.”
If Hahn read his predecessor’s call to action, he did not act on it. . . . . Yet the failure to activate the private sector was the key difference between the U.S. response to the coronavirus and that of South Korea, which first detected the virus in its country at the same time the U.S. did. “Instead of going through regulatory hijinks,” says Milton, the University of Maryland virologist, South Korea “turned their biomedical industry loose, and they started producing lots of tests right away.”
The testing breakdown had left the nation blind to the true scope of the outbreak. By March 1st, the CDC’s official tally of coronavirus cases had spiked from the 15 cases touted by Trump to 75. But researchers at Northeastern University have now developed models showing there were likely 28,000 infections at the time, in just five major cities, including New York and Seattle.
Having plunged the nation headlong and unprepared into the deadliest disease outbreak in a century, President Trump is now proving to be one of the greatest obstacles to an effective national response.
Sebelius ultimately blames Trump for failing to end the infighting and fix the testing failure. “The White House has a unique way to get agencies’ attention, by making it clear that they want a solution, and everybody at the table with that solution within 24 hours,” she says. “If the president wants this to happen, it will happen.” But on his visit to the CDC in Atlanta, Trump had made an extraordinary admission: That he did not want to let passengers from a cruise ship, then suffering an outbreak off the California coast, to come on shore because the tally of patients would rise. “I like the numbers being where they are,” Trump said.
Trump plainly saw effective testing as a threat to his political messaging that the administration was containing the virus. By standing at CDC headquarters to declare that the tests were “perfect” and that he didn’t want COVID-19 numbers going up, the president was doing the exact opposite of demanding a fix. For the president’s deputies, Sebelius says, “there couldn’t be a clearer signal.”
In the event that Trump is still president when a vaccine becomes available, Sebelius argues that the loose confederations that have formed in the Northeast, Midwest, and Pacific states to coordinate their reopenings may need to band together in a shadow government to sidestep Trump. “Maybe governors will put together their own system,” she says, “and ignore what’s happening in the White House.”

Again, read the entire piece.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Wednesday Morning Male Beauty

The Pandemic's Staggering Impact on the World’s Cities

As much as Trump's rural base hates America's cities and the "liberals" who live in them, cities - and generally the blue states in which they are located - have been the engines that have driven America's economy.  Moreover, blue states have paid far more into the federal system than they receive, thereby subsidizing red states which often are viewed as unattractive venues for new and progressive businesses.   Now, the coronavirus pandemic has hit cities with their denser populations especially hard and the economic impact may be long lasting, especially for those cities with the densest populations and most costly living costs. Service industries such as restaurants - some predictions are that 70% will never reopen - may be among those most severely harmed. Add to that the new working from home model which may change how large corporations with large numbers of white collar workers operate, and the impact may be magnified.  A piece in Washington Post looks at the huge impact.  Here are highlights: 
Cities across the world have become sites of the novel coronavirus pandemic’s greatest tragedies. New York City is possibly now the single biggest hot spot of the virus and has suffered close to a quarter of all U.S. deaths. It’s a similar ratio in London when set against the rest of Britain. Madrid’s toll may be even worse.
In most cities, life is a shadow of what it once was, with streets empty, arenas abandoned, businesses shuttered. Well-heeled residents have skipped town to country abodes and seaside getaways. Most of those who remain have slipped into an atomized existence — their movements curtailed, their social circles exponentially shrunk — that’s anathema to the whole point of living in a bustling, vibrant city.
From the financial capitals of the West to teeming megacities in the developing world, the crisis is both exposing profound systemic problems and raising tough questions about whether cities will ever be able to return to what they once were.
The imperatives of social distancing have plunged the world into a giant experiment in remote work, and some office workers may never want to return to the stresses, steep housing costs and public health risks associated with life in a dense, big city. As Cavendish noted, trends already underway may accelerate: The populations of global cities like New York, Paris and even Shanghai were declining before the pandemic struck, largely as a result of soaring rent prices.
UNESCO, the U.N. cultural agency, warned Tuesday that the pandemic may kill 1 in 8 of the world’s museums. Myriad local retailers and businesses that in part help cities distinguish themselves from suburban areas more beholden to corporate chains face extinction. A recent survey in the United States found that 70 percent of smaller restaurants don’t expect to reopen should the coronavirus crisis last more than four months. Hundreds of American towns and cities plan on cutting public services in the coming year as tax revenue plummets.
With many companies probably downsizing their physical footprints and demand for commercial real estate slowing, the skyscrapers that shape skylines from Manhattan to Mumbai may start to look more like white elephants than symbols of financial might.
“If pandemics become the new normal, then tens of millions of urban service jobs will disappear,” wrote Edward Glaeser, an economics professor at Harvard University. The only chance to prevent this labor market Armageddon is to invest billions of dollars intelligently in anti-pandemic health care infrastructure so that this terrible outbreak can remain a one-time aberration.”
Pandemics have inspired substantive innovation and change before. “In the 1850s, the cities of New York, Paris, and London rebuilt their sewage systems in response to a century-long global cholera pandemic that killed more than 1.5 million people and ushered in a new age of urban sanitation that spread across the globe,” wrote Steve LeVine in Medium’s Gen magazine.
Now the world’s cities may become crucibles for a new wave of experimentation. This may range from the benign — consider the many cities shutting down streets to car traffic and expanding public outdoor seating, pedestrian- and bicycle-only spaces — to the more sinister — consider the new technologies of surveillance and contact tracing that may come to dominate urban life even after the pandemic.
The crisis may provide a short window for our unaffordable, hypergentrified cities to reset and to reenergize their creative scenes,wrote University of Toronto urbanist Richard Florida. “Predictions of the death of cities always follow shocks like this one. But urbanization has always been a greater force than infectious disease.”

If Trump remains in the White House and the GOP retains control of the U.S. Senate, do not expect the required investment in an anti-pandemic infrastructure.  Voting in November for a straigh Democrat ticket has become all the more important.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

More Tuesday Male Beauty

Amid An Economic Crisis Trump Wants to Lower Unemployment Benefits

Time and time again in the past working class and many middle class Americans have voted against their own economic best interest as they succumb to the GOP's siren songs or racism and Christian extremism. Now, with literally millions of Americans suffering from unemployment, Trump and his GOP sycophants in the U.S. Senate want to reduce unemployment benefits, providing yet another example of why voting Republican is insane for normal, working Americans. Should Trump and the GOP get their wish unemployed workers could see a huge reduction in benefits which might literally leave people going hungry or defaulting on their other bills (such as utilities). It's another example of the callousness of the GOP which, if successful, would force desperate workers back to work with employers who will be in a position to dictate Scrooge like terms. A piece in New York Magazine looks at the disturbing Trump/GOP agenda.  Here are highlights:

Most of the debate over a new coronavirus stimulus measure involves new assistance Democrats think the country needs that Republicans oppose on grounds that such past legislation as the $2.2 trillion Cares Act needs to be fully implemented before Congress takes further action. So it’s one party wanting to act, and another wanting to “pause” (except for the complication that Republicans really, really want a liability shield for corporations).
Trouble is, Republicans are also very interested in taking away an existing stimulus measure that many of them opposed in the first place — the enhanced unemployment insurance designed to keep low-income Americans from a disastrous drop in living standards in anticipation of a big boost in joblessness. There was a lot of fretting in the Senate that the $600-per-week federal add-on to UI benefits in the CARES Act might enable low-wage workers in poorer states to make more money on unemployment than they did in the jobs they had lost. That led to a floor revolt led by Republicans senators Ben Sasse, Lindsey Graham, Tim Scott, and Rick Scott to cap the payments at the level of past wages . . . . It failed to achieve anything like the 60 votes necessary . . . . but subsequently, Republicans troubled by all that extra money corrupting the morals of shiftless unemployment beneficiaries have been calling for “reforming” the measure.
Now it looks like [Trump] the president is joining those in his party who believe the unemployment check is too damn high. According to Seung Min Kim of the Washington Post, “Trump on Tuesday privately expressed opposition to extending a weekly $600 boost in unemployment insurance for laid-off workers affected by the coronavirus pandemic,” per three sources. It’s unclear whether Trump simply wants to cap or lower payments, or let the federal UI enhancement lapse altogether.
Either way, you have to wonder why [Trump] a president with no fixed philosophy of the federal government’s role in the economy would do anything to reduce stimulus efforts since a rapid recovery is generally deemed vital to his reelection.
What makes the UI issue different from other forms of federal stimulus spending, however, is that it’s precisely the sort of thing Trump’s CEO buddies probably care about just as much as free-market ideologues do. High UI benefits, like high minimum wage levels, threaten the fundamental power imbalance that serves as the silver lining for business owners during a deep recession. If they could get away with it, they might promote lower UI benefits —and minimum wages — in an emergency like this to ensure a robust buyer’s market for labor.
Trump’s own motives on this issue might be colored even more by his desire to declare the coronavirus pandemic over, and the economy in full recovery. You don’t need enhanced UI benefits if the economy is racing back towards full employment . . . . . At the earliest possible juncture, he’ll favor a resumption not just of normal life but of normal, pre-recession economic and labor policies.
Unfortunately, wishing the pandemic and its economic effects are over doesn’t make it so, and cutting off enhanced UI could make that happy day more remote, some economists believe: Come July 31, if the emergency UI top-up isn't extended, unemployed workers will effectively get a pay cut of 50-75% overnight.
But if “Mission Accomplished” is where Trump intends to pivot in the weeks ahead, he will have the eager support of Republicans who really do want to return to starving the federal government beast and enjoying all the deregulation the administration has quietly conducted as the hospital beds filled up.

Tuesday Morning Male Beauty

Right Wing Defiance of Public Health Directives

Many of the ugly elements of the far right - good people according to Trump -have protested state ordered shutdowns and refused to wear masks, an act that sends a message that they care nothing for those they might infect.  any in the media - especially right wing outlets like Fox News, a/k/a Faux News on this blog, have spun the resistance as a class struggle with working class whites struggling to survive financially resisting the most versus the educated "liberal elite" working from home.  The problem is that the facts do not support this false narrative.  The defining element is not one's class or socioeconomic group, but rather partisan.  If one is a knuckle dragging, religiously extreme, and/or racially aggrieved white supportive of Trump and the GOP more widely, odds are you oppose the lock downs.  If you put science, knowledge and some modicum of concern for others, then you likely support the lock downs and feel some fear as the states reopen their businesses.  A column in the New York Times looks at this fake class war meme.  Here are highlights:
A Washington Post article on Sunday described people in a posh suburb of Atlanta celebrating liberation from coronavirus lockdown. “I went to the antique mall yesterday on Highway 9 and it was just like — it was like freedom,” said a woman getting a pedicure.
“Yeah, I’m going to do the laser and the filler,” said a woman at a wine bar, looking forward to cosmetic dermatology. “When you start seeing where the cases are coming from and the demographics — I’m not worried,” said a man lounging in a plaza.
Only one person was quoted expressing trepidation: a masked clerk in a shoe store.
Lately some commentators have suggested that the coronavirus lockdowns pit an affluent professional class comfortable staying home indefinitely against a working class more willing to take risks to do their jobs. . . . On Fox News, Steve Hilton decried a “37 percent work from home elite” punishing “real people” trying to earn a living.
The assumptions underlying this generalization, however, are not based on even a cursory look at actual data. In a recent Washington Post/Ipsos survey, 74 percent of respondents agreed that the “U.S. should keep trying to slow the spread of the coronavirus, even if that means keeping many businesses closed.” Agreement was slightly higher — 79 percent — among respondents who’d been laid off or furloughed.
Researchers at the University of Chicago have been tracking the impact of coronavirus on a representative sample of American households. They’ve found that when it comes to judging policies on the coronavirus, “politics is the overwhelming force dividing Americans,” and that “how households have been economically impacted by the Covid crisis so far” plays only a minimal role.
Donald Trump and his allies have polarized the response to the coronavirus, turning defiance of public health directives into a mark of right-wing identity. Because a significant chunk of Trump’s base is made up of whites without a college degree, there are naturally many such people among the lockdown protesters.
But it’s a mistake to treat the growing ideological divide over when and how to reopen the country as a matter of class rather than partisanship. . . . . And many of those who face exposure as they’re ordered back to work are rightly angry and terrified.
[H]ere’s the thing about reopening: It’s liberation to some, but compulsion to others. If your employer reopens but you don’t feel safe going to work, you can’t continue to collect unemployment benefits. In The Texas Tribune, a waitress in Odessa spoke of her fear when she was called back to work at a restaurant that hadn’t put adequate social distancing measures in place. “It scared me, so I left,” she said. “Then I had to remember that if I do quit, I would have to lose my unemployment.”
As seems to be always the case, the far right opponents of the public health directives are self-centered and selfish - something that is also a hallmark  of evangelical Christians who put their rights and, wants and prejudices over the rights and lives of others.

Monday, May 18, 2020

More Monday Male Beauty

Republicans Warn Trump's Re-Election is on Shaky Ground

It is still over five months to the November, 2020, elections, but two news stories point to good news for decent, moral Americans - a group that excludes the majority of evangelicals - who are sickened by the Trump/Pence regime.  One in Politico reports on the danger signs in swing states that suggest that Trump is losing to Joe Biden.  The other is at FiveThirtyEight which suggests that older Americans, especially those over 65 are beginning to abandon Trump.  It goes without saying that Trump will shriek and whine about "fake news" even though internal Republican polling confirms the news reports.  One can only hope that the trend continues and that, as Republicans fear, Trump is irrevocably attached to his bungling of the response to the Covid-19 pandemic.  First these highlights from Politico:
Donald Trump has made clear he will attack Joe Biden unmercifully in order to ensure the election is a choice between him and Joe Biden — rather than an up-or-down vote on [Trump's] the president’s handling of the coronavirus.
Scott Walker has a different view, at least when it comes to Trump's chances in the all-important battleground of Wisconsin.
“I think it still boils down to a referendum on [Trump] the president. They’ll beat up on Biden and they’ll raise some concerns,” said the former two-term Republican governor of Wisconsin, who lost his seat in 2018. But in the end, if people felt good about their health and the state of the economy, Trump will probably carry Wisconsin. If not, Walker said, “it’s much more difficult” for [Trump] the president.
Walker is not alone among swing-state Republicans in his assessment of [Trump's] the president’s political prospects. Interviews with nearly a dozen former governors, members of Congress, and other current and former party leaders revealed widespread apprehension about Trump’s standing six months out from the election.
Many fret that Trump’s hopes are now hitched to the pandemic; others point to demographic changes in once-reliably red states and to the challenge of running against a hard-to-define Democratic opponent who appeals to a wide swath of voters. The concerns give voice to an assortment of recent battleground state polling showing Trump struggling against Biden.
[T]hroughout 2016, many Republicans thought he wouldn't win.  But that hasn’t quelled GOP fears, even in some traditionally friendly states.
Georgia hasn’t gone for a Democratic presidential nominee since 1992. But last week, Republicans released two internal surveys showing a neck-and-neck race, one of which had Biden narrowly ahead. “Georgia is absolutely at risk for Republicans in 2020 — up and down the ballot, everything is in play. . . . said Republican State Leadership Committee President Austin Chambers, who has deep experience in Georgia politics and recently released a memo warning the party to take the state seriously.
It's a similar story in Arizona. Public polling over the course of the spring has consistently shown Biden ahead, and a recent private GOP survey had the former vice president with a small lead. Though Democrats haven’t won Arizona in a presidential election since Bill Clinton in 1996, the party flipped four statewide offices in 2018.
Most of the GOP’s attention is focused on a trifecta of Rust Belt states that catapulted Trump to the presidency, but where he now trails.
Republicans, including Trump’s own advisers, are most concerned about Michigan. A Fox News survey taken last month showed Biden leading by 8 percentage points; two recent internal Republican surveys similarly had Trump trailing, but by smaller margins.Democrats are unlikely to repeat their mistake of 2016, when they failed to turn out voters in liberal Wayne County, an area that encompasses the heavily black Detroit metro area.
Recent surveys have also shown Trump behind in Pennsylvania, where Republicans suffered across-the-board losses in 2018. . . . . Former Pennsylvania Rep. Phil English said the state’s Democratic governor would face backlash for his management of the coronavirus but that voters would likely focus any frustrations toward national Republicans in power.
“I think there is too much blame-mongering going on, but that is predictable and I think that is going to complicate the political landscape for Republicans in Pennsylvania because they’re the party with the White House, so all negatives are going to first be set at their direction,” said English.
Former North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory said he was confident Trump would win the state, which he carried by less than 4 percentage points in 2016. But with multiple competitive statewide races on the ballot, the former governor was less certain that Trump's popularity would carry over to other Republicans.
Though Florida has drifted toward Republicans in recent statewide elections — Trump carried it in 2016, and the party won races for governor and Senate in 2018 — recent surveys have shown [Trump] the president trailing in his newly adopted home state.
Five ThirtyEight has equally encouraging news about the possible mass defection of older voters from Trump whose policies - as well as the GOP controlled Senate - ought to be setting off alarm bells among the over 65 voters.  Here are story excerpts:
There are different “gaps” in American politics, but one that has consistently shown up in recent presidential elections is the age gap. That is, younger voters tend to vote more Democratic and older voters tend to vote more Republican.
In 2016, for instance, President Trump performed best among voters 65 years and older. . . . . However, recent public polls — and [Trump's] the president’s own private polling — suggest that Trump may be doing worse among older voters against former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee.
In national head-to-head polls conducted since April 1, Trump is barely breaking even with most older Americans — and in some age groups, he’s even trailing Biden by as much as 1.4 points (see 45- to 64-year-olds).
The most startling shift, though, is among voters age 65 and older. Four years ago, Trump bested Hillary Clinton by 13 points, 55 percent to 42 percent, . . . . But now Biden narrowly leads Trump 48 percent to 47 percent, based on an average of 48 national polls that included that age group.1 If those figures hold until November, they would represent a seismic shift in the voting behavior of America’s oldest voters.
But it’s not just among voters 65 and older where Trump is slipping. He’s also fallen almost as far among voters 55 and older. Trump is essentially tied with Biden among that age group, even after winning these voters by 10 points in 2016, 53 percent to 43 percent, according to the CCES. Trump’s numbers have also fallen with 45- to 64-year-olds, as well as 50- to 64-year-olds . . . .
We don’t have as much state-level polling to work with, but there’s evidence that Biden is also doing better with older voters in some key swing states. Take two recent surveys from Florida, a state with one of the oldest populations in the country. A Fox News poll from mid-April found Biden with a slim 3-point lead over Trump and running even among voters 45 and older, while a Quinnipiac University survey from the same period found Biden up 4 points overall in Florida and leading Trump 52 percent to 42 percent among voters 65 and older.
Yes, things can change over five months, but the message to decent, moral Americans is that they need to do all they can to convince friends and family members to jettison Trump and ideally vote a straight Democrat ticket - especially if they live in Kentucky or South Carolina.  Moscow Mitch McConnell needs to be sent into retirement as does Lindsey Graham, the Palmetto Queen.

Monday Morning Male Beauty

Resort Towns Ask: Will There Be Summer?

Outer Banks beach.
Locally, the cities of Williamsburg and Virginia Beach rely heavily on tourism for a large part of their economy.  To the south in North Carolina's Outer Banks, dependence on tourism is even more significant.  With Memorial Weekend the weekend after next, the big issue facing businesses within the tourism industry is whether or not there will be a summer tourist season and, if there is, what will it look like. With over three weeks of paid vacation left of the year, the husband I find ourselves with no travel plans for the first time in years - our October cruise was cancelled - and left without two months of income from the husband's salon which just reopened under a whole new mode of operation: open more days, stylists working staggered schedules to keep the numbers of people in the place at any one time reduced to less than 10 people, constant sanitizing, and many client in-salon perks eliminated, with no one knowing how long this "new normal" will last. Will we travel this summer?  I honestly do not know.  In Virginia Beach hoteliers are facing an even more daunting scenario as they wonder who will visit the area given the economic stress so many unemployed people face and fears of exposure to the covid-19 virus.  A piece in the New York Times looks at the questions facing the tourism industry around the country.  Here are highlights: 
In summer resort towns across the United States, livelihoods for the year are built in the 15 weeks between Memorial Day and Labor Day. It is during those 15 weeks that tourists from around the country and the world arrive to bask on the beach and gather for festivals and weddings. And it is during those three months that tour operators, hoteliers, innkeepers, restaurant employees and others earn the bulk of their income.
But this year, with Memorial Day — the kickoff for summer — approaching, there will be fewer guests to welcome and likely no sizable weddings or festivals to host. Business owners in resort areas, from Cape Cod, Mass., to Lake Chelan, Wash., say that as the start of summer approaches, they are having to face the difficult reality that little money will be made this year.
Between canceled trips and uncertainty about how willing and financially able people will be to travel once shelter-in-place rules are lifted, business owners say that even if summer travel starts late, it won’t make up for losses that have already been incurred.
Traffic to resort towns will likely consist of local visitors from nearby cities and towns for day or weekend trips, rather than for longer stays, business owners speculated. Many also said they expect to see few, if any, international visitors.
Public health is essential and should be prioritized, Ms. Rishel and other business owners said, but business survival is also important. And so resort towns are grappling with the cost-benefit analysis of reopening and potentially having the virus spread versus remaining closed and potentially shuttering doors.
In North Carolina’s Outer Banks, tourists will be allowed to return and stay in hotels beginning on May 16, but life will be different. Social-distancing rules will have to be followed; businesses will limit the number of people to 50 percent of their usual capacity; sanitizing stations will be at every turn; and staff at hotels will wear masks.
“Even if we can’t do 100 percent of our normal business, we are just excited to be back in business and have a chance at survival,” said John Harris, a co-founder of Kitty Hawk Kites, which offers adventure tours and sells and rents equipment for various outdoor activities. “Staying closed isn’t an option for a community that’s 90 percent dependent on tourism.” Mr. Harris said about 80 percent of his revenue is made between Memorial Day and the end of September.
In New Jersey, where beaches will be open for Memorial Day, with restrictions, and hotels will reopen on June 1, the mood among some innkeepers and hoteliers is also cautiously optimistic. . . . . Who will come and how many of them will come is the unknown at this point, but we’re getting calls for reservations and people are reaching out on Facebook, so it looks like we will have our summer.”
“I’m excited to see people, but I’m also being terrified because it’s too soon to reopen,” she said. “I don’t think the state has met all the standards they said we’d need to meet before we open. We are still seeing new cases, and the rules about how to operate just aren’t clear.”
Ms. Gutlon, as well as other innkeepers and owners in North Carolina, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Washington state, said that they are trying to figure out the rules for guest numbers, social distancing and serving food on their properties. For example, she said, no more than 10 people can gather, but the inn typically has about 16 guests in its eight rooms, in addition to staff — so would filling rooms be breaking the rules?
In Massachusetts, where short-term rentals (including hotels) have been banned since March, the lack of direction from authorities led 26 Martha’s Vineyard innkeepers and hotel operators to write a letter to Gov. Charlie Baker’s advisory task force earlier this month, asking for guidance about reopening.
Hospitality businesses are also thinking about how the industry has been fundamentally changed by the coronavirus. When tourists return, there will be no hugging and no touching; smiles will be hidden behind masks; turndown service likely won’t exist; and many travelers will be afraid of staying in hotels where they don’t control cleaning procedures or know who stayed there before they did.
“Will people want to pay hundreds of dollars to take their own sheets off their bed or to sit in their room and eat all their meals there?” asked Ms. Gutlon of the White Doe Inn in the Outer Banks. She and others said that those questions will also affect people’s willingness to travel from afar. Guests who usually book for more than just a few days have all canceled their trips this year, she said.
Carol Watson, one of the owners of the Captain Farris House, an inn on Cape Cod, said she is already feeling the loss of international visitors.
Memorial Day, Ms. Watson said, is the real kickoff for the summer season, and she would normally be preparing for a revolving door. Instead, she is spending her time on conference calls with other business owners and a marketing company, trying to stay on top of what’s going on and updating policies and cleaning and sanitizing procedures.
“Everybody is frustrated with where we’re at and we’re all worried about this summer, but we don’t want to see people sick,” she said. “We don’t want to see people dying.”