Saturday, June 27, 2020

More Saturday Male Beauty

The Lincoln Project is Trolling Trump

I will confess that I am a huge fan of the Lincoln Project's anti-Trump ads.  They are exceptionally well done and as an added bonus, they are enraging Trump and have the potential to drive him to do something stupid that will boomerang and bite him in the ass.  Indeed, I have donated to the Lincoln Project and would encourage others who despise Trump to do so as well (you can make a donation here).  A piece in Politico looks at the Lincoln Project - whose members to me represent what the GOP once was - and its success in driving Trump to distraction.  Whether it can change votes  remains to be seen, but the hard hitting and all to accurate ads certainly cannot hurt in the effort to send Trump into a much needed forced retirement.  Here are article excerpts:

The moment President Donald Trump started tweeting at 12:46 a.m. about the “RINO Republicans” at the Lincoln Project who’d just run an ad attacking his response to the pandemic, Reed Galen knew his hunch was right: you can trigger a Trump freakout with a little bit of planning and pop psychology.
Galen had co-founded the Lincoln Project, an anti-Trump PAC run by Republicans, with the goal of convincing Americans to vote against him in November. In May, the group thought Trump’s response to the pandemic had created the perfect opportunity to both make their case. Off of a brainwave that cofounder George Conway had during a conversation with his wife, White House adviser Kellyanne Conway, Galen and his small team guessed Trump would be particularly enraged by an in-the-moment ad that portrayed the president as making Americans “weaker, sicker and poorer” than ever before. And they figured the best bet to get to [Trump] the president would be to target Trump where he was, Washington, D.C., on the channel he watches, Fox News, when he was most likely to be watching, at night.
What they hadn’t expected, though, was that Trump would single out nearly every person involved in the Lincoln Project by name — Kellyane Conway’s “deranged loser of a husband, Moonface” Conway, “Crazed” Rick Wilson, “LOSERS” who had consulted for “loser” candidates. 
To Galen, it was a sign that the Lincoln Project — the first phase, at least — was working.
“It's not just pissing off Donald Trump. Anybody could do that,” Galen said in an interview, though he admitted to “a modicum of enjoyment” from being the topic of midnight tweetstorm. “It's, to what effect? Like, why are you doing it? And the point is to take him off his game and take his campaign off their game, strategically and tactically, so that the Biden campaign and Joe Biden can have the freedom of movement and the green air to do the things that they need to do.”
In the past few months, the Lincoln Project — a PAC with not much funding, as far as PACs go — has successfully established itself as a squatter in Trump’s mental space, thanks to several factors: members each boasting hundreds of thousands of social media followers, rapidly cut ads that respond to current events and a single-minded focus on buying airtime wherever Trump is most likely to be binging cable news that day, whether it’s the D.C. market or his golf courses across the country. And every time Trump freaks out — or every time the media covers his freakout — the Lincoln Project scores an incalculable amount of earned media, and millions of views online to boot.
But though the PAC has successfully caught Trump’s attention — The Daily Beast reported the campaign spent $400,000 on ads in the D.C. market in part so Trump would feel less threatened by Lincoln Project ads — Trump’s critics worry that the ads, as well cut and as troll-effective as they are, may not actually work to “prosecute the case” against his re-election, as the group vowed to do back in December.
With the pandemic, however, Trump has made the case against himself, Galen argued. From his early dismissals of the burgeoning outbreak to his suggestion that injecting “disinfectant” into the lungs might help fight coronavirus, and his flat-out insistence that he wanted to slow testing down in order to suppress the number of COVID-19 cases, the president has generated his own attack ad copy.
“We already had a plan in place which was prosecute him, prosecute him, prosecute him,” Galen said. “The difference is that he became a much weaker defendant, all on his own, because of his own faults.”
Two-thirds of its TV spending is focused on the presidential race, according to the ad-tracking firm Advertising Analytics. The spots both boost Biden and eviscerate Trump. Notably, though, the group’s most recent ad — which is currently pinned to the top of its Twitter account — lionizes Biden’s leadership qualities.
The group's mission to troll [Trump] the president is evident in its ad buys. Its longest sustained presence on TV is a series of ads that have played nearly non-stop since early March on cable stations in Washington, D.C., aimed at its audience of one. The group has spent just under $380,000 on TV ads there, airing on MSNBC, Fox News and C-SPAN.
It also placed a minute-long ad in Tulsa, Okla., to coincide with the president's campaign rally there last weekend, splicing together side-by-side clips of segregationist George Wallace, the former governor of Alabama, and Trump.
And, of course, going viral online is essentially free, given the Lincoln Project’s million-plus Twitter followers, and the combined millions who all follow Conway, Wilson, Schmidt and the rest.
Galen said that a single video can get a million views in three hours, and two million by the end of the day.
“Look, Twitter's not the real world,” he conceded. “But you generate enough heat and enough energy there, it starts to spin stuff off into the real world.”
With less than 130 days before the election, and a pandemic making traditional campaigning near-impossible, it’s still unclear how — and if — the Lincoln Project can deploy the assets that it is building into something that can flip votes. After all, as Galen himself admitted, it’s not that hard to infuriate Trump with something like an ad showing him simply shuffling down a ramp and struggling to sip water.
But while the group plots that second phase, their non-traditional strategy of playing mind games with the president shall continue, Wilson declared.
“Other groups do what they do, we're here to do what we do,” he said. “And never the twain shall meet.”

Saturday Morning Male Beauty

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Will Covid-19 Accelerate the GOP's Slow Suicide

I "came out" almost nineteen years ago and finally broke all ties to the Republican Party shortly thereafter given the Party's take over by Christofascists and the Party's aggressive anti-gay agenda which included support for sodomy laws and bans on even civil unions for same sex couples.  Here in Virginia at that time the Virginia GOP made the conscious decision to double down on its efforts to pander to rural voters and Christian extremists to the exclusion of moderate to liberal suburban voters. Subsequently, open white supremacists were welcomed into the Virginia GOP base.  Nationally, the GOP made a similar conscious decision to reject growing population areas in favor of shrinking rural areas. In Virginia, the result has been that the Virginia GOP has not won a statewide race in eleven years and the state is increasingly viewed as a blue state - all the result of what I warned Republican friends was a form of slow political suicide.   Now, that same slow suicide may be accelerating on a national level with the Covid-19 pandemic perhaps being the spark needed to see a sea change in 2020.  A lengthy piece in The Atlantic looks at the GOP's potential losses in states like Arizona, Texas, North Carolina and Florida all thanks to Trump and the GOP's suicidal focus on an aging and shrinking rural base.  Here are article highlights:

The wildfire of coronavirus cases burning through the Sun Belt’s largest cities and suburbs could accelerate their movement away from President Donald Trump and the GOP—a dynamic with the potential to tip the balance in national elections not only in 2020, but for years to come.
Until the 2016 election, Republicans had maintained a consistent advantage in the region’s big metros—including Atlanta, Houston, Dallas, and Phoenix—even as Democrats took hold of comparable urban centers in other parts of the country. But under Trump, the GOP has lost ground in these diverse and economically thriving communities. And now, a ferocious upsurge of COVID-19 across the Sun Belt’s population hubs—including major cities in Florida and North Carolina where Democrats are already more competitive—is adding a new threat to the traditional Republican hold on these places.
In 2016, Trump won all five of the large Sun Belt states that could be battlegrounds in November. But the improving Democratic performance in the big metros provides Joe Biden a beachhead to contest each of them. Polls consistently give the former vice president a lead in Arizona and Florida, show him and Trump locked closely in North Carolina, and provide the president only a small edge (at best) in Texas and Georgia. New York Times/Siena College polls released today give Biden solid leads in Arizona, Florida, and North Carolina, and commanding advantages in the major population centers of each state, including Phoenix, Miami, Charlotte, and Raleigh. Fox News polls also released today show Biden leading Trump narrowly in North Carolina, Georgia, and (even) Texas, while opening up a comfortable 9-point advantage in Florida.
Even the Republicans relatively confident that Trump’s grip on rural voters will allow him to hold most, if not all, of these states recognize the implications of a trend that has them losing ground in the communities that are preponderantly driving economic and population growth.
“The trends of 2016, ’17, ’18 are continuing apace, with continuing weakness of the Republican brand in suburban areas that had traditionally voted Republican, coupled with strengthening of the Republican brand in rural areas that had traditionally voted Democrat,” Whit Ayres, a Republican pollster who has long specialized in southern suburbs, told me. “The problem, of course, is that the Republicans are trading larger, faster-growing areas for smaller, slower-growing areas, and the math does not work out in the long run with that sort of trade.”
The new twist in this ongoing reconfiguration is the coronavirus. . . . . . the number of new cases in and around Sun Belt cities is exploding. “If we stay on this current trajectory, then we will overwhelm our hospitals” in July, Steve Adler, the mayor of Austin, Texas, told me yesterday, echoing the public alarms of many mayors across the region.
The trend lines are daunting. From May 23 through Tuesday, the total number of confirmed cases more than doubled in the counties centered on Austin (Travis), Houston (Harris), and Dallas; nearly doubled in Fort Worth (Tarrant); and roughly tripled in San Antonio (Bexar). In Maricopa County, Arizona, which comprises Phoenix and its sprawling suburbs, the total number of cases more than quadrupled
Public-health experts expect the numbers to continue rising for weeks. In Arizona, “we are experiencing a second surge after an early-May plateau,” Joe Gerald, a professor at the University of Arizona College of Public Health, told me. “This surge is much larger than the first one and basically our foot is still on the accelerator. It is going to get worse before it gets better.”
Across almost all of the Sun Belt states, the spikes are exacerbating tensions between Republican governors who rely mostly on suburban and rural areas for their votes, and Democratic local officials in the most populous cities and counties. Taking cues from Trump, Republican Governors Ron DeSantis in Florida, Brian Kemp in Georgia, Greg Abbott in Texas, and Doug Ducey in Arizona have all moved aggressively to reopen their state economies; refused to deviate from that course as the caseloads have increased; and blocked municipal officials from reversing or even slowing the pace of the reopening.
The one concession from DeSantis, Abbott, and Ducey has been to allow local governments to require some degree of mask wearing. But experts say that requirement alone, especially given the uncertainties of compliance and enforcement, cannot stop the rapidly rising caseload in these states. “I don’t think [masks] are going to be sufficient to slow the spread or prevent us from exceeding our hospital capacity,” Gerard told me.
For Trump and the GOP, an urban/suburban backlash against these Republican governors—combined with a broader negative verdict on the federal pandemic response—risks accelerating the trends reshaping metropolitan politics across the Sun Belt.
Democrats are now finally seeing the same trends fortify their position in the Sun Belt population centers.  Take Gwinnett and Cobb counties, outside Atlanta. In 2014, Republican Senator David Perdue, who’s up for reelection in November, won comfortable margins of about 55 percent in each. In 2016, though, Hillary Clinton won both by relatively narrow margins against Trump, and in 2018, the Democratic gubernatorial nominee, Stacey Abrams, carried them more resoundingly. Abramowitz expects them to continue moving toward the Democrats in 2020, with margins sufficient enough to give Biden and Perdue’s Democratic opponent, Jon Ossoff, a competitive shot at the state, and also to flip an open U.S. House seat in Gwinnett.
In Texas, the arc looks similar. The University of Houston political scientist Richard Murray has charted a clear blue bend in voters’ political preferences in the 27 counties that comprise the state’s four huge metro areas—Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, and Austin—which together account for about 70 percent of the state’s votes and jobs.
Murray said he expects Biden to capture as much as 58 percent in November. With the higher presidential-year turnout, he predicts, that could produce an advantage of more than 1 million votes for Biden in and around those four cities. Murray said there is no guarantee Trump can squeeze out enough rural votes to hold Texas. But even if he does, the GOP faces some brutal arithmetic: As Ayres and Murray both noted, it’s relying more and more on the places that are shrinking or stagnant in population while retreating in the growing places. This problem is especially acute in Texas, Murray said, because the metropolitan areas are among the nation’s fastest growing, and they are becoming much more racially diverse as they expand.
[F]or November, Arizona is the state where these dynamics may matter most. Many Democrats see Arizona, which Democrats have carried only once since 1948, as Biden’s best chance to reach 270 Electoral College votes if he can’t dislodge Trump’s hold on either Wisconsin or Florida.
Maricopa County is the key to those hopes. It was the biggest county in America that Trump won in 2016, when he carried it by almost 45,000 votes. But in 2018, it propelled the Democratic Senator Kyrsten Sinema to her victory when she took it by about 60,000 votes. Noble’s recent polls have consistently found both Biden and Democratic Senate candidate Mark Kelly leading their respective Republican opponents by roughly double digits in the sprawling county . . . . no matter how much Republicans run up the score, as Trump is likely to do, in the state’s rural regions. “They are still in trouble in Maricopa County,” he said.
Republicans are leaking support from two groups in Maricopa: college-educated white voters (especially women) and seniors. Both populations are among those who have expressed the most concern about the coronavirus, even before the fearsome surge now buffeting the area.
Trump’s response? When he stopped in Maricopa for a rally in north Phoenix on Tuesday, he did not wear a mask or require one for those attending the event, despite public pleas to do so from Mayor Kate Gallego. He barely mentioned the outbreak in his 90-minute speech. In other words, even while visiting metropolitan Phoenix, Trump’s focus seemed to be on his preponderantly white base in the exurban and rural communities beyond it.
Across the Sun Belt, November will test whether Trump’s base-first strategy can overcome the resistance that’s coalescing against him in the population centers now confronting the full force of the coronavirus outbreak.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Friday Morning Male Beauty

Republicans Have Thwarted America's Response to Covid-19

Americans find themselves about to be banned from traveling to Europe as that continent begins to reopen for tourism.  Meanwhile a number of red states - notably Florida and Texas - are seeing surging cases of Covid-19 with no end in sight. Republican governors who failed to impose mandatory face mask rules (Virginia has had a face mask requirement for weeks now) and continued social distancing are belatedly listening to the appeals of mayors whose cities are seeing soaring rates of infection.  The rates are soaring not because of more testing but rather because the number of infections are in fact soaring.  How did America find itself in this mess?  Like so many other problems facing America, the thanks - or more aptly, the condemnation - belongs to the GOP and Der Trumpenführer who put trying to revive the economy and Trump's reelection chances ahead of public safety.  With Trump's approval rate plummeting, it seems many voters, including GOP leaning seniors are waking up to the disaster Trump and the GOP have wrought.  A column in the New York Times looks at the fiasco.  Here are excerpts:

Earlier this year much of America went through hell as the nation struggled to deal with Covid-19. More than 120,000 Americans have now died; more than 20 million have lost their jobs.
But it’s looking as if all those sacrifices were in vain. We never really got the coronavirus under control, and now infections, while they have fallen to a quite low level in the New York area, the pandemic’s original epicenter, are surging in much of the rest of the country.
And the bad news isn’t just a result of more testing. In new hot spots like Arizona — where testing capacity is being overwhelmed — and Houston the fraction of tests coming up positive is soaring, which shows that the disease is spreading rapidly.
It didn’t have to be this way. The European Union, a hugely diverse area with a larger population than the U.S., has been far more successful at limiting the spread of Covid-19 than we have. What went wrong?
The immediate answer is that many U.S. states ignored warnings from health experts and rushed to reopen their economies, and far too many people failed to follow basic precautions like wearing face masks and avoiding large groups. But why was there so much foolishness?
Well, I keep seeing statements to the effect that Americans were too impatient to stay the course, too unwilling to act responsibly. But this is deeply misleading, because it avoids confronting the essence of the problem. Americans didn’t fail the Covid-19 test; Republicans did.
After all, the Northeast, with its largely Democratic governors, has been appropriately cautious about reopening, and its numbers look like Europe’s. California and Washington are blue states that are seeing a rise in cases, but it’s from a relatively low base, and their Democratic governors are taking actions like requiring the use of face masks and seem ready to reverse their reopening.
So the really bad news is coming from Republican-controlled states, especially Arizona, Florida and Texas, which rushed to reopen and, while some are now pausing, haven’t reversed course. If the Northeast looks like Europe, the South is starting to look like Brazil.
Nor is it just Republican governors and state legislatures. According to the new New York Times/Siena poll, voters over all strongly favor giving control of the pandemic priority over reopening the economy — but Republican voters, presumably taking their cue from the White House and Fox News, take the opposite position.
And it’s not just about policy decisions. Partisanship seems to be driving individual behavior, too, with self-identified Democrats significantly more likely to wear face masks and engage in social distancing than self-identified Republicans.
The question, then, isn’t why “America” has failed to deal effectively with the pandemic. It’s why the G.O.P. has in effect allied itself with the coronavirus.
Part of the answer is short-term politics. At the beginning of this year Donald Trump’s re-election message was all about economic triumphalism. . . . He and his officials wasted crucial weeks refusing to acknowledge the viral threat because they didn’t want to hear any bad news.
And they pushed for premature reopening because they wanted things to return to what they seemed to be back in February. Indeed, just a few days ago the same Trump officials who initially assured us that Covid-19 was no big deal were out there dismissing the risks of a second wave.
I’d suggest, however, that the G.O.P.’s coronavirus denial also has roots that go beyond Trump and his electoral prospects. The key point, I’d argue, is that Covid-19 is like climate change: It isn’t the kind of menace the party wants to acknowledge.

It’s not that the right is averse to fearmongering. But it doesn’t want you to fear impersonal threats that require an effective policy response, not to mention inconveniences like wearing face masks; it wants you to be afraid of people you can hate —people of a different race or supercilious liberals. . . . It’s “kung flu,” foisted on us by villainous Chinese. Or it’s a hoax perpetrated by the “medical deep state,” which is just looking for a way to hurt Trump.
The good news is that the politics of virus denial don’t seem to be working. Partly that’s because racism doesn’t play the way it used to: The Black Lives Matter protesters have received broad public support, despite the usual suspects’ efforts to portray them as rampaging hordes. Partly it’s because the surge in infections is becoming too obvious to deny; even Republican governors are admitting that there’s a problem, although they still don’t seem willing to act.
The bad news is that partisanship has crippled our Covid-19 response. The virus is winning, and all indications are that the next few months will be a terrifying nightmare of rampant disease and economic disruption.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

More Tuesday Male Beauty

Obama Implores Americans to Defeat Trump

As I have noted both on this blog and on Facebook, the 2020 presidential election is a stark choice between (i) morality - i.e,. anyone other than Trump - and (ii) immorality as embodied in Donald Trump, a malignant narcissist whose stock in trade is endless lies, hate and bigotry and an utter disregard for the best interests of the majority average Americans. There truly is no middle ground, some my Republican friends will be confirming whether or not they are moral and decent individuals or not based on how they cast their vote come November.

 While Barack Obama made mistakes while president (we are all mortals after all), overall I believe he stands for morality, the rule of law and the U.S. Constitution.  That is certainly the feeling I got the one time I was up close to him and heard him speak at a campaign event in 2012.  Trump, as noted, is the antithesis of morality, equality under the law, and constitutional government.  Indeed, in my view, Trump is nothing less than evil. Hence why Obama is now beginning a series of campaign appearances for Joe Biden and other Democrat congressional candidates.  A piece in the Washington Post looks at Obama's message to Americans.  Here are highlights:
Joe Biden’s campaign has long viewed his partnership with former president Barack Obama as one of his chief assets in running for president. He spoke often of “my buddy Barack” during campaign events. . . . . But for the past year and a half, there has often been a critical piece missing: Obama.
That began to change in April, when Obama endorsed Biden. On Tuesday, it went a step further, as Obama and Biden made their first joint appearance in years, the former partners allied as they attempt to defeat President Trump.
Obama was the main draw at a virtual fundraiser for Biden, raising more than $7.6 million from 175,000 individual donors, according to Biden’s campaign.
“You’re all feeling a sense of urgency, the same kind of urgency I’m feeling right now,” Obama said near the start of the fundraiser. “I’m here to say: Help is on the way.”
Obama launched into an in-depth criticism of Trump, without mentioning him by name, and said that while his own administration inherited problems, “the foundation stones, the institutions we had in place, were still more or less intact.”
“My predecessor, who I disagreed with on a whole host of issues, still had a basic regard for the rule of law and the importance of our institutions and democracy,” he said.
“What we have seen over the last couple of years is a White House enabled by Republicans in Congress and a media structure that supports them . . . that suggests facts don’t matter, science doesn’t matter,” Obama said. “That suggests that a deadly disease is fake news. That sees the Justice Department as simply an extension and an arm of the personal concerns of the president. That actively promotes division. And considers some people in this country more real as Americans than others.”
[T]his is serious business. Whatever you’ve done so far is not enough . . . We have to do more,” Obama said. He warned Biden supporters of Trump’s strength, and not to underestimate his ability to harness his supporters.
“We can’t be complacent or smug or say it’s so obvious this president hasn’t done a good job,” Obama said. “Look. He won once.”
Obama also turned toward Biden, touting his work with “our presidency” and saying that the tragedies in the former vice president’s life allow him to better understand the lives of average Americans. “This is somebody who has been touched by tragedy in a direct, profound way and as a consequence has enlarged his heart to embrace other people who are undergoing tragedy,” he said.
The event marked a new phase for Obama, who is expected to increase his campaigning not only for Biden but also a full slate of Democrats aiming to preserve the House majority and win back the Senate.
Obama is seen as vital to energizing elements of his coalition with whom Biden has struggled, including young black voters and liberal voters who have distrusted the former vice president, who built his career as a moderate who could work with Republicans. He appeared to target one of their disconnects with Biden when he directly addressed his age.
“I’ll be honest, and hope Joe doesn’t take offense,” he said. “Joe’s been around a while. Sometimes what happens is we take that for granted.
“There’s a tendency to always look for the new and shiny object. But for my money, one of the things that counts the most is to have somebody, whatever mistakes they’ve made or hardships they’ve gone through, have they shown the kind of character that stands up,” he said. “And my experience with Joe Biden is that’s who he is.”
After Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) suspended his campaign in April, Obama released a lengthy video endorsing Biden. In the video, he reflected on the shifts within the party he once led and called for more assertive action.
“To meet the moment, the Democratic Party will have to be bold,” Obama said. “I could not be prouder of the incredible progress that we made together during my presidency. But if I were running today, I wouldn’t run the same race or have the same platform as I did in 2008. The world is different. There’s too much unfinished business for us to just look backwards. We have to look to the future.”
Trump can use opposition to Obama to mobilize his supporters — on Tuesday, his campaign sent out a fundraising email with sirens and the subject line “BARACK OBAMA” — but Obama is generally viewed favorably by most Americans. A recent Fox News poll had Obama with a net favorability of 28 points, compared with minus-12 points for Trump.
Obama has recently shed some of his reluctance to engage in national politics, sharply criticizing Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic last month by calling it “an absolute chaotic disaster” during a call with a network of former staffers and supporters.
On the call, he also criticized the Justice Department’s decision to drop charges against Michael Flynn, who served as Trump’s first national security adviser, saying that it was “the kind of stuff where you begin to get worried that . . . our basic understanding of the rule of law is at risk.”
Obama is expected to ramp up his campaign activities over the coming months, with those close to him pointing to his 2018 involvement as a template: He spent the summer raising money before doing two rounds of endorsements and stumping in 11 states as Election Day neared.

Tuesday Morning Male Beauty

The Troubling Economic Outlook

States are reopening - some with surging cases of Covid-19 - and the American economy appears to have passed its nadir, but the economic future remains troubling. Some industries for now are doing remarkably well - real estate being one of them, at least for those who still have jobs and/or stashed savings that allow them to take advantage of historically low interest rates (I closed a refinance last week where a 15 year mortgage bore an interest rate of 2.25%).   Other sectors of the economy, however, remain bleak as restaurants and retail outlets struggle and the unemployment rate remains in double digits. Disturbingly, the federal government has no plan on how to cure the main factors threatening economic recovery and the Trump/Pence regime appears to want to pretend problems do not exist.  A long piece in The Atlantic looks at the situation and ponders whether America can rise to the challenges it faces or, if instead a long period of economic depression lies ahead.  Here are article highlights:

At least four major factors are terrifying economists and weighing on the recovery: the household fiscal cliff, the great business die-off, the state and local budget shortfall, and the lingering health crisis. Three months ago, the pandemic and ensuing shelter-in-place orders caused mass job loss unlike anything in recent American history. A virtual blizzard settled on top of the country and froze everyone in place. Nearly 40 percent of low-wage workers lost their jobs in March. More than 40 million people lost their jobs in March, April, or May.
Faced with this historic catastrophe, the United States marshaled a historic response: Republicans in the White House and Congress, generally hostile to the notion of economic stimulus for low-income households, came together with Democrats to achieve a $2 trillion rescue package, including a $1,200 onetime payment for most adults and $500 for many children, a radical expansion of the unemployment-insurance system to include gig workers, and a $600-a-week bump to unemployment-insurance payouts. It also created a sweeping small-business rescue plan, covering payroll for companies that kept their employees on the books.
The good: This money kept families afloat—at least for the first, intense months of shelter-in-place. New estimates suggest that the Congressional rescue plan prevented poverty rates from rising, with many jobless workers seeing their incomes increase during lockdown due to the expanded unemployment-insurance payouts. The bad: It left out roughly 15 million people in immigrant families, many of whom were working essential jobs stocking grocery shelves, delivering takeout, and drawing blood in hospitals. And the ugly: The big helicopter drop was a onetime thing, and the unemployment-insurance expansion was time-limited. Congress designed Uncle Sam’s help to dry up this summer, with the unemployment rate still in the double digits. Democrats and Republicans are negotiating another stimulus bill, but concerns about surging budget deficits are complicating the talks.
That means households are headed for a cliff. But not everyone will be affected by it equally. Rich workers, the ones with do-anywhere office jobs, have remained relatively untouched by job and earnings losses thus far. Wealthy families have seen their stock portfolios rebound to close to where they were in the winter. But poor workers—disproportionately black and Latino workers, as well as younger workers—have borne the heaviest employment and earnings losses. They entered this recession with no wealth cushion, many saddled with heavy rents and heavy debts. Income and job losses for them translate into a loss of demand economy-wide, absent federal intervention.
If and when that federal intervention dries up, millions of families just keeping their head above water will sink, as lost jobs and canceled hours force them to stop paying their rent and go into arrears on their debt payments. Hunger, homelessness, forgotten plans to attend community college, babies growing up in stressed households: These are the stakes. The CBO forecasts that every quarter through the end of 2021, American consumers will buy $300 billion to $370 billion less than they would have if the pandemic had never happened.
This steep decline in consumer spending will hasten mass business failure, the second factor weighing on the economy. The Paycheck Protection Program and other federal initiatives shoved an oxygen mask on many companies. But the PPP was scaled to help businesses through a short, intense disruption, though the economy is expected to remain sluggish for months and months. Moreover, the PPP did not include much aid for businesses with significant nonpayroll overhead costs, such as restaurants in high-cost cities. This means that many businesses will fail, if customers fail to return. Already, an estimated 100,000 small companies have shut permanently.
On top of that, numerous businesses—airlines, restaurants, live-events businesses, hotels, private schools, oil and gas companies—face severe and stubborn slumps. Students are not willing to pay as much for online learning as in-person instruction. Companies are not financing travel to conferences and sales meetings. Concerts and festivals are not expected to restart until scientists develop a coronavirus vaccine. Economists expect that 42 percent of people recently let go will not return to their former employers.
A third factor behind a possible second Great Depression is the budget crisis facing states and cities. The federal government does not have to balance its ledger year to year, and perpetually spends more than it takes in. Yet every state but Vermont and most cities and towns are required to remain in the black. Right now, sales taxes, real-estate-transfer taxes, income taxes, fines and fees—they are all collapsing, leaving local governments with a budget gap expected to total $1 trillion next year. Without help from Washington, this will necessarily mean massive service cuts and job losses: namely, an estimated 5.3 million job losses.
The shrinking of the government at the state and local level has already started, as Congress dithers on providing fiscal aid. Michigan is facing a $3 billion budget gap this year and a $4 billion one next year: It has instituted a work-share plan, asking two in three state employees to accept a partial furlough. In New Jersey, the government has asked 100,000 public workers to move to abbreviated schedules. Schools have already let go more workers than they did during the Great Recession, with nearly 500,000 positions lost.
A fiscal cliff for families. Rolling business failures. A budget crisis for state and local governments. Each is bad enough. Each might be a big-enough headwind to tip the economy into recession alone. But the last element is the true alpha and omega of our worst-case scenario: the catastrophe of the American government’s management of the novel-coronavirus pandemic.
Like many of its peer nations, the United States imposed shelter-in-place and social-distancing measures to curtail the spread of the virus. But it did so late, leading to the unnecessary deaths of tens of thousands of people. And it wasted the time these extreme measures bought, because the government failed to set up a strong test-and-trace regime. Countries including South Korea and New Zealand crushed the coronavirus. The United States merely patted it down. The country is reopening with the disease still spreading and maiming and killing, as several states experience a dramatic surge in caseloads.
The botched response means millions of parents will need to continue watching their young children instead of committing to work. It means thousands of offices will remain on work-from-home orders, hurting the commercial operations built to support them. It means Americans will avoid doctors’ offices, bars, and sporting events, staying at home and starving local businesses of revenue. It means localities might end up having to return to extreme social-distancing measures over the summer and fall. And it means fear and mistrust: depressed consumer confidence, ruined faith in government, and concerns about the economy’s ability to recover.
The Trump administration has repeatedly argued that there is a trade-off between the country’s economic health and its public health. But economists and physicians have repeatedly argued that that is untrue: Ending the pandemic would have been the single best thing the federal government could have done to preserve the country’s wealth, health, and economic functioning. The Trump administration, in its hubris, obstinacy, and incompetence, failed to do it.
All four of these factors, and the many others hurting families and killing Americans, are amenable to policy solutions. Congress could extend unemployment insurance, offer new help to flailing businesses, send monthly cash grants to poor families, offer fiscal relief to the states, and implement a nationwide test-and-trace program. The collapse is over. The rebound is under way. But a terrifying future awaits us, one that does not have to come to pass.

Monday, June 22, 2020

More Monday Male Beauty

Americans Are Recognizing The U.S. is Falling Behind its Peers

I have been a long time critic of the concept of American exceptionalism - something that is far more myth than reality.  In fact, when America is measured by its peers across the rest of the developed, industrialized world, it comes up short.  If America is exceptional, it is a negative way.  America has some of the highest levels of childhood poverty, a crumbling infrastructure, insane levels of gun violence, millions who lack access to quality health care, a declining life expectancy, declining opportunities for upward social mobility - a number of European nations have better options for upward mobility - and a pathetic social safety net.  As a column in the Washington Post notes, one positive aspect of the Covid - 19 pandemic is that Americans are increasingly willing to open their eyes and face the fact that America is falling behind much of the rest of the developed world. The piece also suggest part of the problem: the obstruction of the Republican Party which remains focused on benefiting the wealthy at the expense of everyone else.  Possibilities for change and improvement exist, but they begin with the need for political change.  Here are excerpts:

Americans’ belief in American exceptionalism is declining — and that could be a good thing. National narcissism has rendered us complacent, even impotent, in the face of multiple crises.
On our biggest societal problems, the United States seems to have given up. Not because we can’t do better — but because many political leaders, particularly Republicans, apparently don’t think we need to. Their faith that America is already Living Its Best Life means there’s no need to learn from peer countries, or even gauge our relative performance. Consider:
Most of the rest of the developed world has managed to get covid-19′s spread under control. New cases across the European Union have plummeted; in New Zealand, the virus has been virtually wiped out. These and other places that have successfully mitigated the spread have enabled more citizens to safely return to their pre-covid-19 lifestyles, including even attending athletic events with packed crowds.
Meanwhile, here in the United States, the bodies pile up. New confirmed cases are again surging, especially across Sun Belt states. And political leaders seem to have no plan, nor even a plan to make a plan, for beating back the pandemic. Instead, they simply declare the virus vanquished, even as it claims more lives.
How did a country once known for our get-up-and-go come to shrug off mass death, particularly when other countries’ records suggest many U.S. covid-19 deaths were preventable?
Faith in American exceptionalism has curdled into resigned acceptance. We got so accustomed to resting on our laurels that we fell asleep.
This is of a piece with our supine responses to other national challenges that are unusually (sometimes uniquely) American. Much as they gave up on coronavirus containment, U.S. political leaders previously gave up on solving our epidemic of gun violence. And on our high numbers of police-perpetrated killings. Also our high rates of child poverty, uninsurance and carbon emissions.
On these and other metrics, the United States fares worse than most if not all other industrialized countries. Yet U.S. officials — from one party in particular — treat these crises as imaginary or unsolvable.
On the occasions political leaders do acknowledge that we’re not measuring up to peers, they excuse the failing as a trade-off necessary to pursue some other, supposedly superior American ideal. America can’t protect schoolchildren as other countries do, because we must prioritize unfettered access to firearms. America can’t save its grandparents from covid-19, because the Dow takes precedence. America can’t guarantee everyone health care, because [something something] liberty.
But there may be a ray of hope: Recent crises — involving health, the economy and police brutality — seem to have caused more Americans to question their country’s track record.
So suggests the COVID-19 Social Change Survey, a daily, nationally representative survey about the pandemic run by Northwestern University social scientists since mid-March. Some survey questions asked whether the United States is better, worse or about the same as other nations across about a dozen topics (economy, health care, criminal justice system, military, education, etc.).
On nearly every metric, the share of Americans rating the United States as “better” than other countries has declined since the pandemic began.
Other questions, from this survey and longer-term polling by Gallup, show declines in broader measures of national pride and confidence in U.S. institutions.
Normally, of course, reduced patriotism or institutional trust would not be positive developments. These declines can be constructive only if they spur the public — and elected officials — to create conditions that would inspire more patriotism and trust.
Maybe a more realistic assessment of our flaws — a crack in the national narcissism — will motivate change, at least if politicians ever catch up with their constituents.

Monday Morning Male Beauty

Biden’s Rising Evangelical Support

While the vast majority of white evangelicals continue to display their abject moral bankruptcy through their support of Donald Trump - a thoroughly immoral individual - some are beginning to shift towards Joe Biden a Catholic for whom his religious beliefs actual mean something. While not large, the shift has instilled panic in the Trump campaign whose game plan is to garner even higher margins of support among those who voted for Trump in 2016 even as Trump continues to alienate the remainder of Americans. The defections among white Catholics who voted fro Trump in 2016 are even larger despite Trump's efforts to paint Biden as a pro-abortion radical. A piece in Politico looks at Trump's growing problems with the so-called religious conservatives. Here are article highlights:

It was June 10, 2008. Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama had gathered with dozens of evangelical leaders — many of them fixtures of the religious right — at the urging of campaign aides. If he could offer genuine glimpses of his own abiding faith, they insisted he could chisel away at the conservative Christian voting bloc.
The strategy worked. Obama’s campaign stops at churches, sermonlike speeches and his professed belief in Jesus Christ earned him 24 percent of the white evangelical vote — doubling Democrats’ support among young white evangelicals and gaining 3 percentage points with the overall demographic from the 2004 election.
Now, allies of President Donald Trump worry his 2020 opponent, Joe Biden, can do the same — snatching a slice of a critical voting bloc from Trump when he can least afford departures from his base.
Biden, a lifelong Roman Catholic, has performed better in recent polling among white evangelicals — and other religious groups — than Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton did in 2016 and is widely perceived as more religious than the current White House occupant. A Pew Research study conducted earlier this year showed that a majority of U.S. adults (63 percent) think Trump is “not at all” or “not too religious,” versus 55 percent who said they believed Biden is somewhat or very religious.
Many conservative evangelical leaders have argued that Biden’s positions on cultural issues — like abortion, judges and religious freedom — are disqualifying. Still, anxiety is growing inside Trump’s orbit about the former vice president’s ability to peel off Christian voters who supported Trump in 2016, including the 81 percent of white evangelicals he carried, according to eight administration officials, White House allies and people involved with the Trump campaign.
Such an outcome could deal a fatal blow to [Trump's] the president’s reelection, which largely hinges on expanding his support among religious voters to compensate for enthusiasm gaps elsewhere.
“Here’s the problem for Trump: He needs to be at 81 percent or north to win reelection. Any slippage and he doesn’t get a second term, and that’s where Joe Biden comes into play,” said David Brody, chief political analyst at the Christian Broadcasting Network. “In this environment, with everything from the coronavirus to George Floyd and Trump calling himself the ‘law-and-order president,’ Biden could potentially pick off a percent or 2 from that 81 percent number.”
Some of Biden’s campaign appearances and debate answers have been infused with religious undertones, and his campaign reportedly hosts a weekly call with faith leaders to crowdsource policy and personnel suggestions.
At a CNN town hall in February, Biden said his faith “gives me some reason to have hope and purpose” and praised the “ultimate act of Christian charity” shown by members of Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., after they forgave a white supremacist who murdered nine members of their congregation in a 2014 mass shooting.
In an op-ed last December that included references to Scripture and Pope Francis’ second encyclical “Laudato Si,” Biden described “the core concepts of decency, fair play and virtue” that he learned through his Catholic upbringing as guiding principles in his political career.
Even Trump allies recognize Biden has an opening to strike the empathetic and compassionate tone that Trump eschewed in many of his comments about the coronavirus pandemic and nationwide protests over racial inequality.
The president's law-and-order mantra arrived at an already perilous time for his campaign, which has witnessed a steady erosion in support for Trump across key religious demographics and a leftward shift in voter attitudes on issues of race and criminal justice. Trump has already seen double-digit declines in his support from white Catholics, white evangelicals and white mainline Protestants since April — unsettling trends that triggered his recent overtures to conservative Christians, including his visit to St. John’s and an executive order on religious freedom that he signed earlier this month.
“There are evangelicals who didn’t vote for Trump in 2016 who will in 2020, but there are plenty of white evangelicals who are disappointed in his administration’s response to coronavirus and are embracing — for the first time ever — some belief in systemic racism,” said John Fea, a history professor at Messiah College. “They are the ones who are just dying for a reason not to vote for Trump.”
“The Supreme Court decision has caused some evangelicals to lose faith in the political playbook that says justices and judges can deliver what we care about,” said Fea, noting that one of Trump’s main appeals to white evangelicals is his record on judicial appointments and his promise to continue appointing conservative judges.
“It’s not going to have a big effect on evangelical support for Trump, but in the mix of all these other things it does add up,” he added.
Fea, who teaches in Mechanicsburg, Pa., added that “hardscrabble working-class Catholics” in the Philadelphia suburbs and across Ohio, Wisconsin and Michigan should be a primary target for the Biden campaign. He noted that although Trump won the Catholic vote by a 7-point margin four years ago, his support has wavered far more with Catholic voters than it has with white evangelicals, providing his opponent a ripe opportunity.
“In some ways, just the fact that he is Joe Biden from Scranton, Pa., is going to win him Catholic votes in those states,” Fea said.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

The Whole World is Watching America’s Failure

The husband and I love foreign travel and have visited Europe a number of times - during my in-house counsel days, I also traveled to Africa - and we have cruised the Caribbean.  Thus we are conscious of what other nations think of America for good and for bad.  When the white supremacists invaded Charlottesville and the University of Virginia grounds we were in London (celebrating my birthday) and those events made the front page of all of the newspapers, included the Times of London.  It goes without say that none of the coverage was positive. Donald Trump's statement that some of the racist, neo-Nazi crowd were "very good people" left a sense of shock.   Since that day, Trump has continued to destroy America's image abroad with his failed response to the Covid-19 pandemic further undermining America's image.  Seemingly, Trump's base - many poorly educated and others, sadly racist - care nothing about the nation's fallen image.  But it matters greatly in terms of America's "soft power" versus military might.  A column in the Washington Post looks at the world's dismay (other than among dictators hostile to America) at what Trump has wrought.  Here are excerpts:
It’s remarkable to think that for all the damage President Trump had done to America’s image in the world before the beginning of this year, he could wound it even further. But has he ever.
As The Post’s Rick Noack reports, people in other countries are simply gob smacked at what a terrible job the United States is doing in controlling the novel coronavirus pandemic:
As coronavirus cases surge in the U.S. South and West, health experts in countries with falling case numbers are watching with a growing sense of alarm and disbelief, with many wondering why virus-stricken U.S. states continue to reopen and why the advice of scientists is often ignored.
Trump likes to say that after he was elected, respect for the United States was restored, but the truth is precisely the opposite. Even before the pandemic, Trump couldn’t have done more to degrade America’s standing than if that was his explicit goal. Not even George W. Bush, whose disastrous invasion of Iraq drew condemnation across the globe, did as much to undermine our image abroad.
Just the fact that the United States would elect such a vulgar, ignorant, corrupt buffoon was bad enough. But now our government’s incompetence is helping cause the bodies to pile up — and, it would be reasonable for other countries to worry, potentially affecting their own efforts to contain the virus. While international travel has been drastically reduced, it won’t be shut down forever. If you were watching what’s happening in the U.S. — where we have 2.2 million cases of covid-19 and almost 120,000 deaths, more than twice as much as any other country on both counts — would you be eager to welcome U.S. visitors?
And they are watching, which highlights one of the key features of the relationship of the United States to the world. Not only is American culture global — our movies, our music, our sports — but in other countries people pay a great deal of attention to the news coming out of this country, in a way that is not at all reciprocal. . . . . We might give a brief thought to a cyclone hitting Bangladesh or a corruption scandal in Italy, but most Americans care about the rest of the world only as it relates to us. It’s the privilege of being the global hegemon.
While people in other countries still admire the United States, the core characteristic of this administration’s foreign policy has been retreat. Trump withdrew from the Paris climate accords, abandoned the Iran nuclear deal, walked away from the World Health Organization, and heaped contempt on NATO. He has seldom missed an opportunity to express his admiration for the world’s most brutal dictators. Even before the novel coronavirus, citizens in most countries, particularly our staunchest allies, had poor views of him.
And now what does the world see? A country that has produced more Nobel prize winners than any other, with the world’s best universities and most innovative companies, failing disastrously to control a pandemic because of rampant incompetence and cronyism in its government — and that then rushes to resume normal social activities because its dumbest politicians and most idiotically selfish citizens think they should have the “freedom” to infect everyone around them.
If there’s good news, it’s that should Trump lose in November, the world will celebrate with us, just as they did in 2008 when Barack Obama was elected. All the hope people everywhere invested in Obama (too much, it turned out) was magnified by the relief at being rid of Bush.
This time there will be celebrations too, not because the world sees greatness in Joe Biden, but because if Donald Trump is no longer the most powerful person on earth, things can’t help but get better. That’s a feeling everyone everywhere ought to be able to share.

More Sunday Male Beauty

My kind of construction worker.

Trump Tulsa Rally Fizzles

It's a beautiful Father's Day morning in Tidewater Virginia and, if that's not enough reason to smile, there's another bonus to make one smile: Trump's Tulsa rally fizzled with the venue 1/3 empty and the "overflow" almost virtually empty - Trump and Pence did not even appear there given the lack of attendees.  I would not want to be a Trump campaign staffer this morning as I suspect Der Trumpenführer will be exceedingly unhappy even as he lies about the crowd size despite the photographic evidence. As for the racists, troglodytes and misogynists who did attend the rally, based on photos few wore masks or social distanced, so in the next two weeks we will see if Darwin's theory comes into play.  A piece in the New York Times looks at last night's batshitery filled event.  Here are highlights:
President Trump’s attempt to revive his re-election campaign sputtered badly on Saturday night as he traveled to Tulsa for his first mass rally in months and found a far smaller crowd than his aides had promised him, then delivered a disjointed speech that did not address the multiple crises facing the nation or scandals battering him in Washington.
The weakness of Mr. Trump’s drawing power and political skills, in a state that voted for him overwhelmingly and in a format that he favors, raised new questions about his electoral prospects for a second term at a time when his poll numbers were already falling. And rather than speak to the wide cross-section of Americans who say they are concerned about police violence and systemic racism, he continued to use racist language, describing the coronavirus as “Kung Flu.”
[T]he 19,000-seat BOK Center was at least one-third empty during the rally. A second, outdoor venue was so sparsely attended that he and Vice President Mike Pence both canceled appearances there.
Tim Murtaugh, a spokesman for the Trump campaign, falsely blamed the small numbers on “radical protesters” and the news media who he said had frightened away supporters. But there were few protests in the area and no sizable effort to block entrances, and there was a strong security presence.
Mr. Trump was furious about the unused outdoor stage and the comparatively thin crowd in the stadium, according to two people familiar with his reaction. News broadcasts carried video of the partially empty stadium, and even the Drudge Report, a reliably conservative website, carried an all-caps headline that said “MAGA LESS MEGA” with a picture of rows and rows of empty blue seats.
The disappointing turnout came as Mr. Trump already found himself under siege about his sudden firing of the U.S. attorney in Manhattan and his losing legal battle over the release of a memoir full of damaging revelations by John R. Bolton, his former national security adviser.
In rambling, grievance-filled remarks, Mr. Trump made no reference to the Tulsa massacre of 1921 or to George Floyd, whose death at the hands of a white police officer in Minneapolis last month spurred global demands for racial justice. He also did not mention Juneteenth, which marks the end of slavery in the United States and fell just a day before his rally.
Instead, [Trump] the president railed about “left-wing radicals” who he falsely claimed were rioting in cities across the country and praised police officers who “get injured, they don’t complain. They’re incredible” while attempting to stop looters and rioters.
[Trump] The president once again shrugged off the threat from the coronavirus, which he also called the “Chinese virus” at one point, and bragged that he has done “a phenomenal job” fighting the pandemic. He acknowledged that increased testing for the virus revealed more cases of infection, which he felt made the country look bad.
“So I said to my people, ‘slow the testing down,’” he said.
Many of the thousands of Trump supporters at the rally did not wear masks or stand six feet apart — health precautions that Mr. Trump himself has ignored.
After the rally, Mr. Trump’s spokesman searched for a way that Mr. Trump might be happy despite the poor turnout, claiming in a statement that millions of online rally viewers amounted to “a massive audience that Joe Biden can only dream of.”