Saturday, August 08, 2020

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Trump/Pence: Beirut on the Potomac

The recent horrific explosion in Beirut has highlighted the incompetence and corruption of the Lebanese government.  How else to explain how  2,750 tons of extremely dangerous ammonium nitrate was allowed to remain in a port side warehouse for six (6) years. The consequences were deadly and frighteningly destructive.  Here in America we are suffering from deadly incompetence and corruption that defines the Trump/Pence regime. Some estimates put the likely death toll of the regime's incompetent response to the Covid-19 pandemic at 300,000 by December - a number almost ten times the death toll of the 9-11 attack on the World Trade Center.  A column in the New York Times looks at the parallels between the Beirut disaster and America's train wreck at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.  Here are excerpts:

A society at the point of detonation suffers from internal rot. This was true, for example, of the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires in 1914. I am interested in two contemporary cases: the spark that blew up 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate stored since 2014 in a warehouse at Beirut’s port, and the pathogen about one-thousandth the width of an eyelash that has killed at least 160,500 Americans and infected more than 4.9 million as President Trump has flailed.

That Lebanon was rotten to the core is scarcely news. Think of all that unprotected industrial explosive, whose detonation was so devastating, as the ultimate expression of Lebanon’s “malign neglect,” in the phrase of my colleague Robert Worth, a former Times Beirut correspondent, writing in The Globe and Mail.

The discovery this year of Beirut-on-the-Potomac is more surprising, even if America’s malignant state has been evident for some time. The virus highlighted and compounded a sickly national condition.

As other developed countries contained the pandemic, the United States became the pariah nation of dysfunctional government, laughable leadership, tribal confrontation and anti-scientific claptrap. Its own sectarian fiefs, evident in the war of masked believers and unmasked virus deniers, made a coherent response to Covid-19, impossible. The United States, Trump’s “greatest, most exceptional, and most virtuous nation in the history of the world,” detonated into a free-for-all.

I write now from Italy, a nation often held up (somewhat unjustly) as the land par excellence of governmental dysfunction, where the coronavirus struck hard in March and where it seems to now be under control. I write as the American stranger, object of curiosity in this summer sans American tourists. Italy demonstrates that coherent policy, science and a measure of discipline can counter the pandemic. They are alien to Trump’s America, which elicits a pained Italian bewilderment.

The United States does not have two armies, as Lebanon does with the official armed forces and Hezbollah. But like Lebanon, it has fractured.

Its leader, Trump, placed his own fortune above the national interest when he wasted two months downplaying the virus in the belief that a Dow at 30,000 would guarantee his re-election. That is what Lebanon’s clan leaders have always done: put their own financial interests first.

In the past American individualism, a source of economic vitality, could be subsumed into collective determination at times of crisis. The virus proved the exception because American self-reliance has metastasized into narcissistic self-obsession, in the image of Trump. The American spirit got a Lebanese makeover.

Democracy in Lebanon is flawed by nepotism and religious division. In the United States, special interests and the power of the wealthy have warped representative democracy to the point that it fails in its essential task.

The United States is not Lebanon, far from it. But it is ripe for detonation, the more so because that is what Trump seeks.

Lebanese fracture is not American fracture. My southward journeys were not really comparable. The United States has powerful institutions. Its civil war left “government of the people, by the people, for the people” alive. But vigilance is needed if, on Nov. 3, Trump’s America is not to go BOOM.

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Jerry Falwell Jr. Put On "Indefinite Leave" From Liberty University

As regular readers know, I hold those I view as "sacamvangelists" - those who cynically use religion to fleece the gullible and ignorant to line their own pockets while caring nothing about Christ's true message - in low repute.  Many live the lives of millionaires while privately laughing at those they fleece and privately ignoring the moral dictates they seek to impose on others.  Here in Virginia we seem to have an over representation of such individuals (northern Virginia has a plethora of right wing "Christian"  organizations), most notably Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, Jr., with their toxic "Christian universities."  It goes without saying that most of these leeches on society support the morally bankrupt occupant of the White House.  Now, thankfully, Jerry Falwell, Jr., has been seemingly forced into an indefinite leave from Liberty University after his latest scandal that invoked his posting of a photo of himself with a woman not his wife with their pants unzipped.    A piece in Forbes looks at this welcomed development and Falwell's previous sexually suspect scandals.  Here are highlights:

Jerry Falwell Jr. agreed Friday to take an “indefinite leave of absence” from his roles of president and chancellor of Liberty University at the request of the Board of Trustees after he shared a provocative, now-deleted vacation photo on social media, the latest in a series of scandals for the evangelical leader.

Falwell landed in hot water once again this week after posting a photo of himself on a yacht while on vacation with his pants unzipped, midriff hanging out, a drink in hand and his arm around a woman.

The picture brought accusations that he was indulging in behavior that wouldn’t be tolerated by his university’s students, and a call for his resignation from GOP lawmaker and former pastor Rep. Mark Walker, who said Falwell’s “ongoing behavior is appalling.” 

Falwell began stoking controversy shortly after he took over as president of Liberty University, one of the world’s largest conservative Christian universities, urging students at a 2015 convocation to carry concealed weapons so they could “end those Muslims before they walked in,” referencing a mass shooting in San Bernardino. 

After offering his early endorsement of Trump in the 2016 election, the prominent evangelical figure was criticized by students for silencing anti-Trump dissent and creating a “culture of fear,” accusations that were expanded upon in a 2019 Politico expos√©, citing two dozen Liberty staff, which alleged Falwell would discuss his sex life at work in graphic detail and show off photos of his wife “in provocative and sexual poses.”

As controversy swirled around Falwell’s business dealings involving a young pool attendant in Florida, photos emerged of the Liberty president and members of his family partying at a Miami Beach nightclub in 2014; Falwell dismissed the allegations, which don’t line up with the school’s standards for students barring co-ed dancing and drinking, saying the images were photo-shopped (though the photographer published more the next day). 

Some of the controversies have involved Falwell’s support of Trump, which was seen as integral in winning support from the Christian right in the 2016 election, including allegations that Trump fixer Michael Cohen helped Falwell get rid of racy “personal” photos in someone else’s possession in 2015, as well as reports that Cohen hired a Liberty employee to manipulate polls in favor of Trump ahead of the election, with sources saying Falwell’s son accompanied the employee on a New York trip to collect payment.

“Jerry Falwell Jr.’s ongoing behavior is appalling,” wrote Walker, the vice chair of the House Republican Conference, in a Thursday tweet. “As a Music Faculty Advisory Board Member and former instructor [at Liberty University], I’m convinced Falwell should step down. None of us are perfect, but students, faculty, alumni … deserve better.” 

The university has numerous restrictions that most American colleges do not have, including, as of 2015, a $20 fine for attendance at a dance and a $50 knock for students “visiting alone with the opposite sex at an off-campus residence.” Like his father, Falwell has been heavily involved in politics.

Sadly, Falwell's hypocrisy is the norm among so many self-styled leaders of the evangelical movement.Hopefully, his removal will become permanent.

Friday, August 07, 2020

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Are Trump and the GOP Losing the Culture War

Back in 2004 George W. Bush used gays and the alleged menace of same sex marriage as a tool to turn out the evangelical and gay-hating factions of society. Sixteen years later, same sex marriage is a reality and even evangelicals, if pushed, will have to concede that the world did not end as a consequence.  Moreover, evangelicals constitute a shrinking percentage of the electorate especially among younger voters nearly 40% of whom have walked away from religion. On top of all else, in the 2020 election run up, the Covid-19 pandemic and badly damaged economy are the main preoccupation of all but scamvangelists, white supremacists and "Christian right" extremists.  Yet Trump and the GOP continue to try to use the culture war to whip their shrinking base into a frenzy.  So far, it does not seem to be working and even New York State's lawsuit to dissolve the NRA seems to be drawing a yawn from all but the most extreme gun fanatics.  A piece in Politico looks at Trump and the GOP's difficulty in getting traction on the culture war.  Here are article excerpts:

The culture wars aren't working for Donald Trump. His law-and-order rhetoric isn’t registering with suburban voters. One of his leading evangelical supporters, Jerry Falwell Jr., was just photographed with his zipper down. Immigration isn't provoking the response it did in 2016, and NASCAR has spurned the president.

Even an attempt by a New York Democrat to take down the National Rifle Association — a lawsuit announced Thursday by state Attorney General Letitia James — looks unlikely to juice Trump's reelection hopes.

“America has changed,” said Frank Luntz, the veteran Republican consultant and pollster. “Every person who cares about the NRA is already voting for Trump. Suburban swing voters care about the right to own a gun, but they don't care about the NRA.”

[T]he NRA is not the institution it was in American politics even four years ago, when it spent heavily to help Trump win election. Beset by financial problems and infighting, public support for the NRA has declined during the Trump era, falling below 50 percent last year for the first time since the 1990s, according to Gallup. At the same time, nearly two-thirds of Americans want stricter gun laws.

That's when voters are even thinking about gun control. Three months before Election Day, they mostly aren’t — it's all about coronavirus and the economy, stupid. That's a problem for Republicans even the NRA has acknowledged.

The culture wars of old, said Paul Maslin, a top Democratic pollster who worked on the presidential campaigns of Jimmy Carter and Howard Dean, seem “miles away from where this election is right now.”

Gun control and other cultural issues, he said, “are always a backdrop and a way for Trump to maintain his base. But again, his base is 42 percent. Where’s the other 5 to 6 percent he needs going to come from?”

If Republicans have an opening in the developing feud over the NRA, it will likely have less to do with gun control than with a broader effort to paint Joe Biden as beholden to the progressive left.  . . . . Republicans are spending heavily to depict him as an extremist, and the filing of the NRA lawsuit in New York, a heavily Democratic state, helped Republicans to advance their cause.

“The Democrat strategy has seemed to be — and I think it was a smart strategy — go with Biden, he’s a centrist, he’s safe, he’s nonthreatening,” said Greg McNeilly, a Republican strategist in Michigan and longtime adviser to Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. While that alternative seemed inviting to a lot of Trump supporters, including older voters, McNeilly said he thinks they'll reconsider when the reality of a potential Biden presidency sets in.

Trump himself pressed the case Thursday when he called the New York action a “very terrible thing that just happened.”

Evoking his own defection from New York to Florida and drawing a more explicit connection to a state that is unexpectedly competitive, he told reporters, “I think the NRA should move to Texas and lead a very good and beautiful life, and I’ve told them that for a long time.”

Pro-gun control groups like Everytown for Gun Safety have spent millions of dollars on down-ballot races in recent years, winning victories in a number of swing congressional districts in 2018. And Democrats sense an opportunity to put the NRA down for good.

“What’s interesting is that if the NRA truly has to dissolve, there is no far-right organization that is going to take its place,” said Mathew Littman, a former Biden speechwriter who works on gun reform. “The NRA is not where the American people are on the gun issue … So without that, I think you could see rational gun reforms.”

[G]iven Trump's inability to harness any other cultural issue so far in the campaign, it will likely take a Hail Mary for him to make it work. Trump has been running consistently behind Biden nationally and in most battleground states — unaided by issues surrounding civil unrest and the flag. Trump's best chance, most Republicans and Democrats agree, is for the coronavirus or economy to turn around or for his law-and-order rhetoric to gain traction.

“The election is about Trump’s pandemic response and the answer to the Reagan question: Are you better off now than four years ago,” said Doug Herman, a lead mail strategist for former President Barack Obama's 2008 and 2012 campaigns.

Even in Texas, a relatively gun-loving state, several Democrats said they doubted the NRA issue would resonate.

“I just don’t really think that many people are paying that much attention” to anything other than the pandemic and the economy, said Colin Strother, a veteran Democratic strategist in Texas.

Thursday, August 06, 2020

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America is on the Verge of a Housing Crisis

After being forced from a law firm for being gay - at the time, I had no legal protections unlike what is now the law in Virginia - I launched my own law firm focusing on real estate and LBGT clients.  At first, things went well, but then the housing market collapsed as the nation went into the Great Recession. Not only did much of my law practice take a hit, but home values fell as well as the wave of foreclosures drove down property values.  At the moment, the residential real estate market is on fire in a good way, fueled by incredibly low mortgage interest rates - the husband and I are working on one with a rate of 2.37% - that have caused a wave of refinances and home purchases by those still employed despite the Covid-19 pandemic.  But warning signs are on the horizon particularly as moratoriums on foreclosures and rental evictions end and benefits to the unemployed expire.  Indeed, we are the verge of a possible replay of the housing market collapse of 2007-2009 which saw property values plummet.  At the same time, unemployed renters will be facing eviction.  No one will benefit except those seeking to buy foreclosed properties at vastly below market rents.  A column in the Washington Post argues that federal and state intervention will be needed to prevent such an ugly housing crisis reprise.  Yes, safeguards will be needed to make sure that only those deserving receive aid, but doing nothing could be catastrophic. Here are column highlights:

The nation is facing an accelerating housing crisis. Too many people had no stable housing before the pandemic hit, and covid-19 has made the problem even worse. Renters who were already facing an affordable housing shortage (with many spending more than half of their income on rent) now have no federal rental assistance or federal protection from eviction. Homeowners have less than a month left of foreclosure protection. And more than 30 million people receiving unemployment insurance just saw their benefits cut by $600 a week, raising the threat of a wave of defaults that could trigger a double-dip recession.

Families see a looming catastrophe. But private equity firms just see dollar signs.
 
The Wall Street Journal recently reported that investors are “preparing for what they believe could be a once-in-a generation opportunity to buy distressed real-estate assets at bargain prices.” This profiteering is far from “once-in-a-generation” though: It’s straight out of private equity’s playbook during the 2008 financial crisis. We all know what happened then: Homeowners targeted by predatory mortgages lost their homes to foreclosure, and private equity swept in to buy those homes at depressed prices.

Following the 2008 crash, corporations that grabbed up properties on the cheap converted those homes into rentals, and turned into the worst kind of slumlordsjacking up rents, neglecting maintenance requests and health and safety concerns, and eagerly assessing fines, fees and eviction notices. Other corporate-owned homes were left vacant in a hoarding of housing stock.

We cannot stand by while this history repeats itself. If we fail to prevent another private equity real estate grab, we risk allowing another massive upheaval in the housing market that could wreak more havoc on low-income Americans, especially Black and brown families still recovering from losing their homes a decade ago.

What should lawmakers do? First, pass strong federal legislation to guard against the coming wave of evictions and foreclosures, including emergency rental assistance.

Second, to prevent predatory companies from further destabilizing neighborhoods and profiting off the displacement of families, Congress needs to pass legislation creating new restrictions on the sale of delinquent mortgages. Sen. Warren’s American Housing and Economic Mobility Act would stop the pipeline of these mortgages being sold to private equity firms, and make sure that communities and homeowners are put ahead of private investors.

The cost of inaction couldn’t be clearer. In Oakland, for example, the average home sells for more than $760,000 and the median monthly rent is $3,000, both out of reach for too many families. Advocates estimate that as many as 20,000 residents of Oakland could be evicted during this crisis. Yet even as families sleep in cars and on the streets, hundreds of properties in West Oakland that are owned by a private investment firm sit vacant.

Wall Street has already shown us what it will do if left unchecked: Financial speculators will have free rein to continue exploiting the basic human need for safe and secure shelter — a need that is even greater during a pandemic. Such a move against struggling families would further entrench already terrible wealth disparities, making the promise of affordable housing an ever-dwindling possibility for hard-working families.

I truly believe that doing nothing will lead to another housing market crash.

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How the Pandemic Defeated America

Much of America finds itself faced with an out of control Covid-19 pandemic that has seen little or no coordinated federal response to the health catastrophe.  Meanwhile, another 1.2 million Americans have filed for unemployment even as congressional Republicans dither and play Scrooge as previous aid provisions have expired. While the farcical federal response continues to do little to stop the pandemic, six or more states - including Virginia - have banded together to provide a testing system to make up for the missing response.  This effort is a case of better late than never, but the crucial reality is that America - in particular the Trump/Pence regime - failed to act when it had the opportunity to stop the virus. Add to this gigantic failure (i) the limitations of America's for profit health care system (this includes non-profit hospital systems that hoard money for their monopoly wars with other systems) and (ii) the refusal of "conservatives" and idiot youth to wear masks and social distance, and it's little wonder that America is the laughing stock of the developed world. A long piece in The Atlantic looks at how America was allowed to be defeated by the virus and who bears maximum responsibility. 

How did it come to this? A virus a thousand times smaller than a dust mote has humbled and humiliated the planet’s most powerful nation. America has failed to protect its people, leaving them with illness and financial ruin. It has lost its status as a global leader. It has careened between inaction and ineptitude. The breadth and magnitude of its errors are difficult, in the moment, to truly fathom.

[T]he new coronavirus behind the disease COVID‑19—infected 10 million people around the world and killed about half a million. But few countries have been as severely hit as the United States, which has just 4 percent of the world’s population but a quarter of its confirmed COVID‑19 cases and deaths. These numbers are estimates. The actual toll, though undoubtedly higher, is unknown, because the richest country in the world still lacks sufficient testing to accurately count its sick citizens.

Despite ample warning, the U.S. squandered every possible opportunity to control the coronavirus. And despite its considerable advantages—immense resources, biomedical might, scientific expertise—it floundered. While countries as different as South Korea, Thailand, Iceland, Slovakia, and Australia acted decisively to bend the curve of infections downward, the U.S. achieved merely a plateau in the spring, which changed to an appalling upward slope in the summer. “The U.S. fundamentally failed in ways that were worse than I ever could have imagined,” Julia Marcus, an infectious-disease epidemiologist at Harvard Medical School, told me.

Since the pandemic began, I have spoken with more than 100 experts in a variety of fields. I’ve learned that almost everything that went wrong with America’s response to the pandemic was predictable and preventable. A sluggish response by a government denuded of expertise allowed the coronavirus to gain a foothold. Chronic underfunding of public health neutered the nation’s ability to prevent the pathogen’s spread. A bloated, inefficient health-care system left hospitals ill-prepared for the ensuing wave of sickness.

The decades-long process of shredding the nation’s social safety net forced millions of essential workers in low-paying jobs to risk their life for their livelihood. The same social-media platforms that sowed partisanship and misinformation during the 2014 Ebola outbreak in Africa and the 2016 U.S. election became vectors for conspiracy theories during the 2020 pandemic.

In 2018, I wrote an article for The Atlantic arguing that the U.S. was not ready for a pandemic, and sounded warnings about the fragility of the nation’s health-care system and the slow process of creating a vaccine. But the COVID‑19 debacle has also touched—and implicated—nearly every other facet of American society: its shortsighted leadership, its disregard for expertise, its racial inequities, its social-media culture, and its fealty to a dangerous strain of individualism.

To avert another catastrophe, the U.S. needs to grapple with all the ways normal failed us. It needs a full accounting of every recent misstep and foundational sin, every unattended weakness and unheeded warning, every festering wound and reopened scar.

A pandemic can be prevented in two ways: Stop an infection from ever arising, or stop an infection from becoming thousands more. The first way is likely impossible. There are simply too many viruses and too many animals that harbor them.

Curtailing those viruses after they spill over is more feasible, but requires knowledge, transparency, and decisiveness that were lacking in 2020. . . .  The United States has correctly castigated China for its duplicity and the WHO for its laxity—but the U.S. has also failed the international community. Under President Donald Trump, the U.S. has withdrawn from several international partnerships and antagonized its allies. It has a seat on the WHO’s executive board, but left that position empty for more than two years, only filling it this May, when the pandemic was in full swing. Since 2017, Trump has pulled more than 30 staffers out of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s office in China, who could have warned about the spreading coronavirus. Last July, he defunded an American epidemiologist embedded within China’s CDC. America First was America oblivious.

Even after warnings reached the U.S., they fell on the wrong ears. Since before his election, Trump has cavalierly dismissed expertise and evidence. He filled his administration with inexperienced newcomers, while depicting career civil servants as part of a “deep state.” In 2018, he dismantled an office that had been assembled specifically to prepare for nascent pandemics. American intelligence agencies warned about the coronavirus threat in January, but Trump habitually disregards intelligence briefings. The secretary of health and human services, Alex Azar, offered similar counsel, and was twice ignored.

Trump could have spent those crucial early weeks mass-producing tests to detect the virus, asking companies to manufacture protective equipment and ventilators, and otherwise steeling the nation for the worst. Instead, he focused on the border.

Travel bans make intuitive sense, because travel obviously enables the spread of a virus. . . . Trump’s included numerous exceptions, and allowed tens of thousands of people to enter from China. Ironically, they create travel: When Trump later announced a ban on flights from continental Europe, a surge of travelers packed America’s airports in a rush to beat the incoming restrictions. Travel bans may sometimes work for remote island nations, but in general they can only delay the spread of an epidemic—not stop it.

This was predictable. A president who is fixated on an ineffectual border wall, and has portrayed asylum seekers as vectors of disease, was always going to reach for travel bans as a first resort. And Americans who bought into his rhetoric of xenophobia and isolationism were going to be especially susceptible to thinking that simple entry controls were a panacea.

And so the U.S. wasted its best chance of restraining COVID‑19. Although the disease first arrived in the U.S. in mid-January, genetic evidence shows that the specific viruses that triggered the first big outbreaks, in Washington State, didn’t land until mid-February. The country could have used that time to prepare. Instead, Trump, who had spent his entire presidency learning that he could say whatever he wanted without consequence, assured Americans that “the coronavirus is very much under control,” and “like a miracle, it will disappear.” With impunity, Trump lied. With impunity, the virus spread.

It’s hard to overstate how thoroughly the testing debacle incapacitated the U.S. People with debilitating symptoms couldn’t find out what was wrong with them. Health officials couldn’t cut off chains of transmission by identifying people who were sick and asking them to isolate themselves.

Before the pandemic, three in four nursing homes were understaffed, and four in five had recently been cited for failures in infection control. The Trump administration’s policies have exacerbated the problem by reducing the influx of immigrants, who make up a quarter of long-term caregivers.

America’s neglect of nursing homes and prisons, its sick buildings, and its botched deployment of tests are all indicative of its problematic attitude toward health: “Get hospitals ready and wait for sick people to show,” as Sheila Davis, the CEO of the nonprofit Partners in Health, puts it. “Especially in the beginning, we catered our entire [COVID‑19] response to the 20 percent of people who required hospitalization, rather than preventing transmission in the community.”

At the end of the 20th century, public-health improvements meant that Americans were living an average of 30 years longer than they were at the start of it. . . . . these achievements brought complacency. “As public health did its job, it became a target” of budget cuts, says Lori Freeman, the CEO of the National Association of County and City Health Officials.

Today, the U.S. spends just 2.5 percent of its gigantic health-care budget on public health. Underfunded health departments were already struggling to deal with opioid addiction, climbing obesity rates, contaminated water, and easily preventable diseases. Last year saw the most measles cases since 1992.

Compared with the average wealthy nation, America spends nearly twice as much of its national wealth on health care, about a quarter of which is wasted on inefficient care, unnecessary treatments, and administrative chicanery. The U.S. gets little bang for its exorbitant buck. It has the lowest life-expectancy rate of comparable countries, the highest rates of chronic disease, and the fewest doctors per person. This profit-driven system has scant incentive to invest in spare beds, stockpiled supplies, peacetime drills, and layered contingency plans—the essence of pandemic preparedness.

The federal government could have mitigated those problems by buying supplies at economies of scale and distributing them according to need. Instead, in March, Trump told America’s governors to “try getting it yourselves.” As usual, health care was a matter of capitalism and connections. In New York, rich hospitals bought their way out of their protective-equipment shortfall, while neighbors in poorer, D

During a pandemic, leaders must rally the public, tell the truth, and speak clearly and consistently. Instead, Trump repeatedly contradicted public-health experts, his scientific advisers, and himself. He said that “nobody ever thought a thing like [the pandemic] could happen” and also that he “felt it was a pandemic long before it was called a pandemic.” Both statements cannot be true at the same time, and in fact neither is true.

No one should be shocked that a liar who has made almost 20,000 false or misleading claims during his presidency would lie about whether the U.S. had the pandemic under control; that a racist who gave birth to birtherism would do little to stop a virus that was disproportionately killing Black people; that a xenophobe who presided over the creation of new immigrant-detention centers would order meatpacking plants with a substantial immigrant workforce to remain open; that a cruel man devoid of empathy would fail to calm fearful citizens; that a narcissist who cannot stand to be upstaged would refuse to tap the deep well of experts at his disposal; that a scion of nepotism would hand control of a shadow coronavirus task force to his unqualified son-in-law; that an armchair polymath would claim to have a “natural ability” at medicine and display it by wondering out loud about the curative potential of injecting disinfectant; that an egotist incapable of admitting failure would try to distract from his greatest one by blaming China, defunding the WHO, and promoting miracle drugs; or that a president who has been shielded by his party from any shred of accountability would say, when asked about the lack of testing, “I don’t take any responsibility at all.”

There's more, but you get the drift. 

Thursday Morning Male Beauty

Monday, August 03, 2020

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The Myth of the White, European Jesus

There are many reasons to view the majority of evangelical Christians (and Southern Baptists) with disdain that extend beyond their support for the morally bankrupt sexual predator currently occupying the White House.  Chief among them is their racism - and hypocrisy.  For the most part they hate and dehumanize anyone who is not white, e.g., blacks, Native Americans, brown skinned Hispanics, South Asians, etc., and, of course peoples from the Middle East.  Meanwhile, they claim to worship a Jew from Palestine who based on historical and anthropological evidence  would have been brown skinned like today's Palestinians.  To avoid a similar incongruity white Europeans invented the myth that Christ was white even as they waged the Crusades against non-white Muslims. The myth has been taken up and maintained by today's evangelicals and Southern Baptist despite all the modern evidence that shows the lie of this treasured myth.  A column in the Washington Post looks ate the hypocrisy of these self-styled Jesus loving, non-white hating modern day Pharisees.  Here are column highlights:

Evangelical writer and radio host Eric Metaxas is one of those figures on the right who has been miniaturized by his association with President Trump. The author of a flawed but serious biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer is more recently the co-author of the children’s book “Donald Builds the Wall!” From Dietrich to Donald is a fall of biblical proportions.

Now Metaxas has stirred controversy with a tweet contending (or assuming) that Jesus was White. His claim was made in reaction to news that the United Methodist Church is partnering with Robin DiAngelo, the author of “White Fragility,” to produce a video series on “Deconstructing White Privilege.” Metaxas’s response read in full: “Jesus was white. Did he have ‘white privilege’ even though he was entirely without sin? Is the United Methodist Church covering that? I think it could be important.”
 
[T]here is no context in which this statement makes historical or theological sense. In attempting to debunk the idea of white privilege, Metaxas employed a traditional affirmation of white supremacy.

There are admittedly no physical descriptions of Jesus in the Gospels. Traditions about his appearance, including the beard, arose more than a century after his death. But there is no doubt that he [Jesus] was a Jew from what we now know as the Middle East. The white, European Jesus of Western imagination is a fiction produced by those who could not imagine human perfection in any other form. “Whites simply couldn’t conceive of owing their salvation to a representative of what they considered an inferior race,” Robert P. Jones, chief executive of PRRI and the author of “White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity” emailed me. “And a nonwhite Jesus would render impossible the intimate relationalism necessary for the evangelical paradigm to function: no proper white Christian would let a brown man come into their hearts or submit themselves to be a disciple of a swarthy Semite.”

Jesus not only looked like a Middle Eastern Jew; this identity also made him part of an oppressed, dispossessed group. A sense of Jewish powerlessness was the social context for his ministry, and his teaching reflected it.

Jesus offered little advice to the privileged, except to humble themselves and give their wealth away. He had much to say about the inherent value of the poor, the meek and the mourning. This message was one reason he suffered a brutal, unjust, suffocating death at the hands of public authorities. And many of his followers eventually died for resisting the edicts of emperors.

The Christian message has always been more easily and fully understood by those who lack social privilege — by those who see the face of a nonwhite Jesus.

Abolitionist Frederick Douglass provides an example. After his own conversion to Christianity, he quickly encountered the deep hypocrisy of Christians who justified white supremacy.

Douglass understood that the relationship between apostasy and slavery was not only individual but also structural. “The dealer gives his blood-stained gold to support the pulpit,” he continued, “and the pulpit, in return, covers his infernal business with the garb of Christianity.”

Even though Douglass often found “the Christianity of this land” depressing, he maintained great respect for “the Christianity of Christ,” which he regarded as a revolutionary doctrine of freedom and equality. The same Christ, he said, who “poured out his blood on Calvary, cared for my rights — cared for me equally with any white master.”

It is the great temptation of Christians in every time to shape their faith to fit their interests and predispositions rather than reshaping themselves to fit the gospel. This is what happened when Christians justified slavery, blessed the violent reimposition of white rule after the Civil War and sanctified segregation.

Now scandalous injustice has forced the examination of white supremacy in our lives and institutions. The Christianity of Christ has much to offer. Among White evangelicals, it needs better representatives than we have recently seen.

Monday Morning Male Beauty


Trump's Push to Open Schools Is Guaranteed to Fail

Two things are a given with Donald Trump: (i) he never accepts responsibility for his mistakes and the mistakes of his regime, and (ii) he only cares about himself/political prospects and will take actions that factor in zero concern for the safety and lives of others.  Both of these traits of Trump have been on glaring display throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.  Now, with extended relief for the unemployed in limbo in Congress - Republicans want draconian cuts to the levels of relief - Trump is pushing for schools to reopen next month in a mad quest for something that might suggest normalcy and improved reelection prospects for Trump.  The risk to the lives of teachers and school staff, not to mention children is simply not part of Trump's calculations. As hard as it is for some of my Republican friends to face the reality, their lives and the lives of their families mean nothing to Trump, who is always the malignant narcissist.  A piece in The Atlantic looks at why Trump's push to reopen schools is doomed to fail.  The only question is how many will suffer or die if Trump's push isn't restrained.  Here are article excerpts:

We’ve seen the failures—in testing, in containment, in federal and state leadership—compound in catastrophic ways. And as our pandemic summer has stretched on, many of us have let go, one by one, of experiences from the world we used to inhabit. We bid goodbye to sleepaway camp, to live music, to distant travel, to boisterous weddings, and to spontaneity in general. Today, a new realization is dawning, and as the debate over schools reopening rages, we must acknowledge it plainly: We aren’t going back to how it was. And we shouldn’t.

“This push to open schools is guaranteed to fail,” says Peter Hotez, a pediatrician and molecular virologist, and the dean for the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine. I’ve been corresponding with Hotez, and with several epidemiologists, over the course of the pandemic, and have noticed a starkness in their views in recent weeks. “The social-distancing expectations and mask requirements for the lower grades are unrealistic,” Hotez told me. “In communities with high transmission, it’s inevitable that COVID-19 will enter the schools. Within two weeks of opening schools in communities with high virus transmission, teachers will become ill. All it will take is for a single teacher to become hospitalized with COVID and everything will shut down.”

Hotez has good reason to be pessimistic. There were 68,605 new cases in the United States yesterday, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The seven-day average has stayed above 60,000 new cases per day since July 13. Reaching 100,000 cases per day, once seen as an apocalyptic, worst-case-scenario warning from Anthony Fauci, is no longer difficult to imagine. Indeed, my conversations with epidemiologists in recent days were all strikingly dark. They agreed: Schools should not risk reopening, probably not even for the youngest children, in the coming weeks. “We can’t pretend like everything’s fine,” said Gary Simon, the director of the infectious diseases division at George Washington University. “If I had a school-age kid, I wouldn’t want to send him to school.”

The evidence is all around us. There is the summer camp in Georgia where hundreds of kids and counselors—nearly half the camp—got infected after only a few days together. Then there’s the school in Indiana where, just hours after reopening last week, a student tested positive for the coronavirus (pictured above).

There’s also the JAMA Pediatrics study that suggests that babies and young children can carry extremely high viral loads of SARS-CoV-2. The study’s authors found at least as much viral material in the throats and airways of young children as in infected adults, and sometimes 100 times as much as in adults. We’ve long known that kids older than age 10 can efficiently transmit the virus, but this new research suggests that younger kids pose a risk of transmission to the people around them, just as older children do. The more we learn, the more likely it seems that children are highly effective vectors for transmission.

“The problem is the White House and the task force could never organize themselves to lead a federal response and bring virus transmission down to containment levels,” said Hotez, who has argued for the necessity of a federal containment plan that, if executed effectively, might allow the nation to reopen comprehensively as soon as October. “Instead they took a lazy and careless route, claiming schools are important, as we all know, and the teachers and principals need to figure it out. What they did was deliberately set up the teachers, staff, and parents to fail. It’s one of the most careless, incompetent, and heartless actions I’ve ever seen promoted by the executive branch of the federal government.”

There is another cause for concern, this one about what the virus might do to children themselves. Although the rate of morbidity in young children is relatively low, young children are also among the least-tested cohort in America. Fauci has stressed repeatedly in recent weeks that we know relatively little about children and the virus.

But “we don’t need additional information to make decisions,” Hotez insisted. Right now, he said, there are at least 40 states in which schools simply should not open. “Remember, schools are not hermetically sealed ... We need to reach containment first. It’s that simple.”

One of the strangest things about living through a pandemic is the lag in understanding of how bad things are, an awful mirror of the lag in deaths that come like clockwork after a surge in coronavirus cases. . . . . The despair that has seemed to crest in recent days represents another kind of lag—a lag of realization—and the inevitable end of hopefulness about what life might be like in September.

These losses will feel only more acute as the season turns. We are accustomed to marking the passage of time in sweet and mundane rituals—the photos taken for the first day back to school, the new sneakers, the clean stack of fresh composition books. Instead we are marking our time in numbers. No longer 15-day increments, but 154 days since we were all together. So far, 152,870 dead from the virus in America. We cannot wish away the pandemic, as much as we try; it will persist until we muster the resolve and the resources to contain it. This is our normal. Not forever, but for a very long now.


Sunday, August 02, 2020

More Sunday Male Beauty


The Self-Defeating Extremism of the GOP Base

Here in Virginia, the Republican Party of Virginia has not won a statewide race in eleven (ii) years. As the Virginia GOP's fortunes have fallen, instead of nominating moderate candidates who might have a chance of winning in the general election, the party base has nominated extremists under the insane belief that the party loses are due to candidates who are too moderate.  Just a few months ago, Virginia's 5th congressional district saw a moderate Republican defeated by and extremist with ties to Jerry Falwell's Liberty University.  What had been a safe Republican seat is now viewed as a possible Democrat pickup.  This mind set shows the alternate universe the unwashed GOP base lives in thanks largely to the deliberate and cynical welcoming of evangelicals and Christofascists (and now avowed white supremacists) into the party. The phenomenon is not limited to Virginia.  In Kansas the incredibly extreme anti-immigrant Kris Kobach may win the U.S. senate primary and set the stage for a Democrat win in November.  While party leaders see the threat, much of the lunatic base does not.  A piece in Politico looks at the situation.  Here are excerpts:

On Thursday, the top operative for Senate Republicans' campaign arm appeared on a private Zoom call organized by GOP operatives to discuss the party's efforts to stave off a Democratic takeover.

During the presentation, National Republican Senatorial Committee executive director Kevin McLaughlin warned that if hardline conservative Kris Kobach wins next Tuesday's Kansas Senate primary, it could doom the GOP Senate majority and perhaps even hurt President Donald Trump in a state that hasn't voted Democratic since 1964.

Senate Republicans have opposed Kobach for a year, fretting that he can’t win a Senate contest after losing the 2018 gubernatorial race, and have warned about him consistently in public and in private.

After failing to woo Secretary of State Mike Pompeo into the race, Republicans had mostly rallied behind Rep. Roger Marshall, who was leading Kobach comfortably in internal polling earlier in the summer. But after nearly $5 million was dumped in by a super PAC with ties to Democrats to elevate Kobach and bash Marshall’s image, Republicans acknowledge that the primary is a dead heat.

A Kobach victory would upend the battle for control of the Senate. Democrats haven't won a Senate race in Kansas since the 1930s, but with Kobach on the ballot, Republicans would be forced to sink millions into trying to defend a seat party officials believe should have stayed safely in their column.

Republicans are already stretched thin on a Senate map that features more than a half-dozen GOP incumbents in competitive races. GOP leaders concede the fight to keep the Senate has gotten harder in recent months but believe the party still can maintain control if it isn't dumping money into places like Kansas.

Democrat Barbara Bollier, a state senator and former Republican, faces only nominal opposition in her primary and has outraised all of her potential GOP foes.

[A]n internal survey conducted for the NRSC last week showed that in a general election matchup, only 54 percent of Republican primary voters would back Kobach, while 29 percent would instead to vote for Democrat Barbara Bollier, according to three people familiar with the data, which has been presented to the White House. That much potential crossover support for Bollier, who has the backing of major Kansas and national Democrats, could doom Republicans' chances in the race.

In addition to private entreaties, Republicans opposed to Kobach have sounded the alarm consistently and publicly. The NRSC blasted Kobach on the day he announced last year. Sen. Pat Roberts, who is retiring from the seat, endorsed Marshall last month despite previously pledging to stay neutral, and Senate Leadership Fund is spending nearly $2 million on positive ads boosting Marshall, according to recent FEC filings.

One veteran Republican operative in the state, who requested anonymity to speak frankly, said Trump likely knows “if he doesn’t have Kansas, the Senate majority is fried.

“Every poll I’ve seen says that Kobach can't win a general election,” Gingrich said on the radio. “[Kobach] did the worst statewide numbers when he ran for governor of any Republican in the last more than a decade. He's weaker now. Kobach is the Schumer candidate, and people just need to understand that.”

Sunday Morning Male Beauty


The Choice in November: Trump or the Country

The nation continues to find itself in the midst of a pandemic and economic collapse with no federal government plan on how to address it and the occupant of the White House - I NEVER afford that individual the title of president - instead continues to stir up racial hatred and prejudice. Meanwhile much of the Republican Party base intentionally closes its eyes to the disaster the Trump/Pence regime has been for the country and the damage done to the country's democracy.  Some are open racists and love Trump's race baiting.  Others - and I truly cannot grasp the mindset - somehow believe God would not allow someone evil the occupy the White House and tune out media sources that would force them to have to admit they have chosen to support and incompetent and morally bankrupt individual. I find this form of intentional blindness mind numbing. I'd also point out to these folks that their god allowed Hitler to come to power and start a war that killed tens of millions of people. One cannot close one's eyes to reality and foolishly - in my view - believe god will take care of things.  We all have a personal responsibility to oppose evil, immorality and the dehumanization of others.  Which brings me to the Lincoln Project and other anti-Trump Republicans and former Republicans.  America faces a choice in November: Trump or the good - and perhaps survival - of the nation.  Whatever the past mistakes of these individuals, they have made the choice of the good of the country over Trump (and evil and immorality, in my view).  A piece in the Washington Post looks at the choice to be made and the efforts underway to save the country.  Which side will you be on?  Here are article excerpts: 

Your house is on fire. Do you care who the firemen are?  That is a central question of the 2020 election. Donald Trump has managed to do one thing no other president has done: Bring Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and progressives, boomers and millennials together in unprecedented numbers to try to defeat him in November. For Americans who believe [Trump] the president is a raging threat to democracy, purity tests are out. Results are in.

Which explains the spectacular rise of the Lincoln Project, a group of Republican Never Trumpers who have moved rent free into the president’s head. Their viral videos and tweets mocking his leadership, his intelligence and his patriotism — aimed both at Republican voters who are wavering and Trump himself — have attracted millions of dollars, via donors from both parties. About 90,000 people showed up for a virtual town hall last month. Lifelong Democrats are organizing fundraisers for the project.
 
The “Mourning in America” ad attacks Trump’s mismanagement of the coronavirus outbreak. “#TrumpIsNotWell” questions his mental and physical fitness. “Bounty” asks why Trump won’t confront Vladimir Putin about U.S. intelligence reports that Russia offered bounties for the killing of American soldiers in Afghanistan.

The ads are slick, scathing and more shocking than anything Joe Biden’s official campaign has produced. The newest release, “Wake Up,” is a dark comic satire about a coma victim hearing about Trump’s last three years. “Republicans, we need to wake up. This guy was in a coma. What’s your excuse?”

“Donald Trump is so completely at odds with every institution in America and so completely at odds with anything that the Republican Party allegedly stood for: the rule of law, constitutional fealty, institutions, norms, traditions, all of those things are out the window,” says Rick Wilson, a co-founder of the group. “So you’re either going to make a choice between Trump or this country.

Pick your motto: Politics makes strange bedfellows. The enemy of my enemy is my friend. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

“I’ll be really honest with you: My time horizon is the election,” says Charlie Sykes, a conservative political commentator who is not part of the Lincoln Project but wants to see Trump voted out. “I feel like the house is burning. I want to put out the fire. I’m going to worry about the redecorating later.”

“Trump is a narcissist and he cannot help but react to threats to his delicate psyche,” explains Conway. “He is a very sensitive, weak human being who cannot take criticism.” The other factor, he adds, is that “he can’t think ahead. He merely reacts to things. And what we do is take advantage of both of those psychological defects.

[T]he Lincoln Project ads are specifically designed to trigger [Trump] the president. Whenever Trump is reacting to a Lincoln Project ad, he’s talking about things he shouldn’t be talking about. He’s explaining why he inched down the ramp at the U.S. Military Academy, or drank water with two hands. He’s shooting off a tweet about the “Mourning in America” ad, thereby raising millions of dollars . . . for the Lincoln Project.

[W]ith a few dozen staffers churning out new videos overnight. “We don’t mess around,” says Wilson. “It’s this concept of moving faster than your enemy’s ability to decide to act in a battle.”

You can call it trolling, and it is: The Lincoln Project buys ad time in Washington and Bedminster for an audience of one. . . . . “The fact that we’re able to use his mental infirmity and addiction to television to freeze him and manipulate him serves a broader purpose for the overall campaign in terms of taking him off message, disorganizing and disorienting him.”

Their unique skill is talking to conservatives in a way that Democrats can’t, with techniques that they’ve honed over many Republican campaigns. They’re also targeting “soft” Republicans who may be persuadable — such as those who voted for Obama in 2012 and Trump in 2016.

“The one thing you can’t get back in politics is time,” says Sykes. “Every day that goes by that Donald Trump is off his game or distracted is a win. He can’t fix that. He can’t go back and get it. What they found is that a single video can take the president of United States off track for a day or more and you see it play out.”

But you would be mistaken in believing the Lincoln Project was created to atone for past sins. Yes, there have been plenty of Republicans who have asked if their efforts over the past decades made a Trump presidency possible. . . . . [Trump] is “a natural product of the seeds of race, self-deception, and anger that became the essence of the Republican Party” over the past 50 years. “Trump isn’t an aberration of the Republican Party; he is the Republican Party in a purified form.”

Sarah Longwell, founder of Republican Voters Against Trump, . . . What’s she hearing? Things like, “I voted for Trump in 2016 and I cried and I felt I needed to take a shower” or “I’ve been watching him since I voted for him and I just can’t stand how divisive he is.”

Longwell, a lifelong Republican, admits she believed her party would stand up to Trump’s worst instincts. And she was wrong.

[U]ltimately, they’re all working for the same goal. And that goal, says conservative commentator Rick Tyler, means alliances with ideological opponents are important in the short term — especially with voters who feel left behind by today’s Republican Party. “There’s no philosophy,” he says. “There’s no belief. There’s no core. It’s just about Trump and his popularity.” The value of the Lincoln Project is that it keeps reminding voters of all persuasions why Trump shouldn’t be reelected.

“Right now you’ve got to kill the alligator closest to the boat, the one that’s going to kill you, and that is Donald Trump,” says Tyler.

“You can’t take your foot off the gas, but he’s going to lose and he’s going to lose big,” says Conway. “The reason why I’m confident of that is not because of the polls, but because of his essential nature, his self-destructive nature. He doesn’t know how to handle the current situation. He can’t lie his way out of it anymore. And if we keep the pressure on, keep doing what we’re doing, he’s going to dig himself deeper.”