Saturday, August 15, 2020

Saturday Morning Male Beauty


The Case Against Donald Trump

I continue to be both amazed and saddened by people who claim that they are good and moral - some even talk about god and their faith - continue to support a man who is the embodiment of the seven deadly sins and who is the antithesis of morality and decency. Yes, I am talking about Trump supporters, far too many of whom live in the bubble of Fox News or evangelicals who fret about abortion but stand by as Trump shreds Christ's social gospel message.  Some of these individuals are open racists and hold hatred for anyone who looks different than themselves.  Others, like so many scamvangelists simply want power and the ability to mistreat others who adhere to different faiths or who have seen the hollowness of today's Christianity in America where adherents are more like the biblical Pharisees than true followers of Christ. The reality is that one cannot be a good and moral person and support someone who is evil.  And let's be candid, Trump is evil.  The November election will decide whether the soul of America can be saved from Trump and his evil narcissism and incompetence. A column in the New York Times lays out the case of why he must be driven from office.  Here are column excerpts: 

Senator Kamala Harris, is a woman who has spent most of her professional life going after criminals. And since that prosecutor will occupy a space inside Trump’s head for the next three months, he should grant her the decency of properly pronouncing her name. It’s not Ca-mall-uh, as he has said. It’s Comma-la.

Let the record show that she has already called him what he is. “I know predators, and we have a predator living in the White House,” she said last year. “The thing you must importantly know, predators are cowards.”

So, to the case: Let’s begin with the loss of more than 165,000 lives from Covid-19 in the United States, on Trump’s watch, and maybe as many as 200,000. Each of them had a story, a life, people they loved and were loved by. Now gone before their time. Their voices cry out from the grave.

You’ve already heard that the United States, with barely 4 percent of the world’s population, has 25 percent of the coronavirus cases. And that the U.S. leads the world in total number of Covid-19 deaths, with a fatality rate five times as high as the global average. Remember that the next time the president praises himself.

But just consider a single day, Tuesday, when Joe Biden announced Harris as his pick. Covid-19 took the lives of 1,450 people in the United States on that one day. For Canada, it was four.

Trump owns this failure. We are a pariah nation, shunned and pitied, unable to travel outside our borders, prisoners of his fatal malfeasance.

Some of you have excused this president’s incompetence, his quackery, his buffoonery, his vile character, his consistent insults of women, minorities, the free press, the courts — so long as it was just the daily respiration of a narcissist. But we know now, and you must never forget, that his ignorance is lethal.

Other countries in the world — the places where people are watching sports in stadiums, where kids are going to school without fear, where businesses have been saved — had a national plan. Trump has never had one. Instead, he tweeted conspiracy nonsense from an ex-game show host and promoted ingesting household disinfectants.

The presidency, as Biden says, “is a duty to care.” This president has failed at the primary duty to keep you safe. Every day, he’s finding new ways to make your life miserable. He is actively working to take away health care from millions, through his assault on Obamacare. His attack on the Postal Service, if successful, is not just an attempt to break this democracy, but could also deprive many of you from getting your lifesaving meds on time.

With his tax cuts for the rich that blew a trillion dollar hole in the federal budget, he promised economic growth of up to 6 percent. It never got to even half that high in the first three years of his presidency. Unemployment now is at Depression-era levels.

“He inherited the largest economic expansion in history,” as your prosecutor said. “And then, like everything else he inherited, he ran it straight into the ground.”

What has this president done to protect his base of working-class whites, many of them deemed “essential” workers? Nothing. As we speak, he’s trying to take away the rights of workers to sue an employer in an unsafe workplace.

He will even say that Joe Biden, a Roman Catholic who regularly attends church, is “against God.” The last time Trump went to church he used chemical irritants against peaceful protesters to get there, for a photo op.

Most of you have made up your mind. For those who haven’t, the prosecutor will close with what she opened with. The United States is “in tatters.” Look around at the shuttered businesses, the hospitals stuffed with those struggling to breathe, Americans at each other’s throats. [Trump] This president offers you no way out. You alone can show him the door.

Friday, August 14, 2020

Friday Morning Male Beauty


Trump’s Racist Suburban Dream

Much of Donald Trump's appeal to less educated whites in 2016 stemmed from his open racism targeted particularly at Hispanics and non-Christians with brown skin.  Study after study has debunked the myth that "economic anxiety" was the motivating force. Instead, it boiled down to fears of loss of white privilege that gave the uneducated white demographic something to feel superior about.  Trump's open racism played well in rural areas and in red states  in the Mid-west that did not even have large minority populations.  It played less well in the suburbs where Republicans took a drubbing in 2018 as many voters demonstrated their abhorrence to  Trump and the GOP in general.  Now, in 2020, Trump is striving to take racial animosity to the suburbs by sending a message to suburban whites that he's all that stands between them and black mobs and minority status.  Hopefully, the message will fall flat and further alienate educated white voters.  I live in a majority black city and can attest that life is good and living in an integrated neighborhood is not the end of the world (black neighbors on the street take far better care of their homes than do many of the whites).  A column in the New York Times looks at Trump's false "war on the suburbs" rhetoric.  Here are column excerpts:

Conservatives do love their phony wars. Remember the war on Christmas? Remember the “war on coal”? (Donald Trump promised to end that war, but in the third year of his presidency coal production fell to its lowest level since 1978, and the Department of Energy expects it to keep falling.)

Now, as the Trump campaign desperately searches for political avenues of attack, we’re hearing a lot about the “war on the suburbs.”

It’s probably not a line that will play well outside the G.O.P.’s hard-core base; Joe Biden and Kamala Harris don’t exactly come across as rabble-rousers who will lead raging antifa hordes as they pillage America’s subdivisions.

Yet it is true that a Biden-Harris administration would resume and probably expand on Obama-era efforts to finally make the Fair Housing Act of 1968 effective, seeking in particular to redress some of the injustices created by America’s ugly history of using political power to create and reinforce racial inequality.

The great suburban housing boom that followed World War II was made possible by huge federal subsidies, via programs — especially the Federal Housing Administration and the Veterans Administration — that protected lenders from risk by insuring qualifying home mortgages. By 1950 the F.H.A. and the V.A. were insuring half of all mortgages nationwide.

[T]hese subsidies didn’t just help home buyers. They were also a gold mine for real estate developers, among them a guy named Fred Trump, who was later sued for discriminating against Black tenants, and whose son currently occupies the White House.

But these subsidies were only available to white people. In fact, they were only available in all-white communities. As Richard Rothstein reports in his 2017 book “The Color of Law,” F.H.A. guidelines specifically cautioned against loans in communities in which children might share classrooms with other children who “represent a far lower level of society or an incompatible racial element.”

Indeed, the F.H.A. went well beyond favoring all-white locations; it set out to create them. . . . . And one of the things the F.H.A. required from such plans was strict racial segregation, supposedly to insure property values.

Now, all of this may sound like old history. But the raw racism of postwar housing policy cast a long shadow over our society. For the 20 or so years that followed World War II represented a unique opportunity for the middle class to solidify its position — an opportunity that was denied to Black people.

You see, the ’50s and ’60s were an era both of relatively good pay for ordinary workers and of relatively cheap suburban housing. . . . . Then the window of opportunity closed. Wages, adjusted for inflation, stagnated. Housing prices soared, in part because building restrictions in many suburbs banned multifamily units. And Black families, who were shut out of a rising market at a time when many other Americans were sharing in the fruits of a housing boom, found the financial barriers to homeownership especially daunting.

So Trump’s Suburban Lifestyle Dream is basically a walled village that the government built for whites, whose gates were slammed shut when others tried to enter.

What is Biden proposing to remedy at least some of these injustices? Reasonable, significant, but hardly revolutionary stuff — things like expanding rental vouchers while cracking down on redlining and exclusionary zoning. Trump may claim that such policies would “destroy suburbia,” but that only makes sense if you believe that the only alternative to bloody anarchy is a community that looks exactly like Levittown in 1955.

And it’s very important to understand that none of the scare talk about a war on the suburbs has anything to do with the usual conservative rhetoric about “freedom” and not having the government tell Americans what to do.  . . . . Discrimination was a statist policy, involving the exercise of political power to deny people free choice.

And it still goes on. What the Black Lives Matter movement has done is to reveal to many white Americans that we’re still a long way from being a society in which everyone is treated equally by the law, whatever the skin color.

But the big difference between the parties now is that Biden and Harris are trying to make things better, trying to make us more like the country we’re supposed to be. Trump and Mike Pence, by contrast, are basically trying to make open racism great again.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

More Thursday Male Beauty


Restoring the Rule of Law After Trump

If one looks back over Donald Trump business practices over the decades he has always operated like a crime boss - and associated with both Mafia and Russian mafia figures and, if some news reports are believed, likely engaged in money laundering for Russian oligarchs through cash purchases of condo units in Trump developments, especially in Florida - and falsified financial statements to both lenders and governmental agencies (things that if you or I did them would land us in prison).  Since moving into the White House, there has been no change in Trump's mode of operation and, indeed, he is now trashing parts of the government if he believes their normal operations are a threat to his re-election: e.g., the U.S. Postal Service and U.S. Intelligence agencies. In the event Trump is hopefully defeated in November, 2020, then the question becomes how should his criminal actions both before and after the 2016 election be handled.  Allowing Trump and his organization - New York State appears to be moving against the Trump organization - and enablers to avoid accountability and a reckoning sends the message that wrongdoers can ignore the law.  A column in the New York Times looks at this issue.  Here are column highlights:

Last week, NPR’s Lulu Garcia-Navarro asked Joe Biden whether, if elected, he could envision Donald Trump being prosecuted. Biden replied that the prosecution of a former president would be a “very, very unusual thing” and probably “not very good for democracy.” The former vice president said he would not stand in the way if the Justice Department wanted to bring a case . . . .

Biden’s reticence is understandable, because a president who runs the White House as a criminal syndicate creates a conundrum for liberal democracy. In a functioning democracy, losing an election should not create legal liability; there was a reason Trump’s “Lock her up” chant was so shocking.

But you can’t reinforce the rule of law by allowing it to be broken without repercussion. After four years of ever-escalating corruption and abuses of power, the United States cannot simply snap back to being the country it once was if Trump is forced to vacate the White House in January. If Biden is elected, Democrats must force a reckoning over what Trump has done to America.

Of course, a Biden victory is far from assured, and if he loses, there may be no stopping this country’s slide into a permanent state of oligarchic misrule. But right now, while there’s still hope of cauterizing Trumpism, ideas about post-Trump accountability are percolating in Democratic and activist circles.

Senator Kamala Harris, of California, said that she believed the Justice Department would have no choice but to pursue criminal charges against Trump for the instances of apparent obstruction of justice outlined in the Mueller report. In January, Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, called for a Justice Department task force “to investigate violations by Trump administration officials of federal bribery laws, insider trading laws and other anti-corruption and public integrity laws.” The House is discussing post-Trump reforms on issues including abuse of the pardon power, foreign election interference and the independence of inspectors general.

The “lack of accountability that people felt around the financial crisis and around torture didn’t go away,” said Rhodes. “It metastasized.” A generation of Republicans learned that there was no price for flouting the rules.

This time, Rhodes believes some sort of commission is warranted. “If you look at other countries, it’s important that the process be constructed in a way that doesn’t feel politically motivated, that doesn’t feel like revenge,” he said. It should be, he said, a “safe space for people to come forward and share what they know about what happened.”

As Rhodes suggests, any post-Trump rebuilding requires learning as much as possible about [Trump's] the president’s many misdeeds. Right now, we don’t know what we don’t know — for every scandal that a whistle-blower or journalist has brought to the public’s attention, there are likely many more that are still secret.

The administration’s failure to contain the coronavirus — exacerbated, according to reporting in Vanity Fair, by Trump’s hostile indifference to hard-hit blue states — deserves something akin to a 9/11 commission. So does the wholesale corruption of American diplomacy, only a small part of which was addressed by impeachment.

But simply airing this regime’s transgressions will not be enough. Sam Berger, who wrote the accountability report for the Center for American Progress, points out that Trump and his enablers can’t be shamed. To reveal all they’ve done without imposing consequences could only underline what they’ve gotten away with, a terrible message to future administrations.

So where there’s been malfeasance, we need legal sanctions. Prosecutions that likely would have happened had Trump not had presidential immunity — like the campaign finance case that helped land his former attorney, Michael Cohen, in prison — should go forward when he’s out of office. The CAP report calls for every government agency to “conduct an immediate internal review to identify corruption during the Trump administration and publicly report on the steps it will take to address it. Where appropriate, information obtained during these reviews must be shared with law enforcement, inspectors general, and congressional committees.”

In order to avoid repeating Trump’s politicization of law enforcement, a President Biden would need to give maximum autonomy to those in charge of Trump probes, which he’s already inclined to do.

Given that Trump has convinced large swaths of the country that the F.B.I. is a hotbed of leftist subversion, it’s hard to see how any prosecution would seem legitimate to most Republicans. But Bassin holds out hope that a President Biden could restore, among a majority of the country, “an understanding that there is a role for an independent Department of Justice.”

“I don’t underestimate the challenge here, but he’s got to do all the things that are possible to get us back on that path,” Bassin said. “Otherwise we are going to be fighting over the very foundational institutions of our democracy endlessly.”

This might be our fate regardless. But he’s right about the challenge for Democrats, should they take power. They must extirpate Trumpism, without ever seeming to imitate it.

Thursday Morning Male Beauty


The Structurally White Privilege of the U.S. Senate

When the Founding Fathers cobbled together the U.S. Constitution, the end result was the end product of numerous compromises based on the society of the day and arguably without adequate contemplation of what the nation might be like decades or centuries later.   Hence the inclusion of the Electoral College which is now functioning to deprive the majority of voting Americans of the right to select the president of the country (but for the Electoral College, Trump would have lost in 2016).  The other institution increasingly thwarting the will of the majority and vesting too much power in a minority of white voters is the U.S. Senate which grants two voted to states with populations as disparate as Wyoming with a population of 549,914 to California with a population of 39.78 million.   Indeed, the Senate is enshrining a tyranny of the minority - a mostly white minority.  A piece in New York Magazine looks at how this disparity is aiding white privilege and thwarting the will of the majority of Americans in the 21st century.  Here are article excerpts:

In a time when institutions across the country have undergone a searching self-examination, the reckoning has only begun for the most powerful source of institutional racism in American life: the United States Senate. It is not merely a problem of legacy and culture — though the Senate’s traditions are deeply interwoven with white supremacy, as Joe Biden inadvertently confessed when he touted his cooperation with segregationists — but of very-much-ongoing discrimination. Quite simply, achieving anything like functional racial equality without substantially reforming the Senate will be impossible.

The Senate’s pro-white bias is a problem the political system is only beginning to absorb.

The Senate was not designed to benefit white voters — almost all voters were white when the Constitution went into effect — but it has had that effect. The reason is simple: Residents of small states have proportionally more representation, and small states tend to have fewer minority voters. Therefore, the Senate gives more voting power to white America, and less to everybody else. The roughly 2.7 million people living in Wyoming, Vermont, Alaska, and North Dakota, who are overwhelmingly white, have the same number of Senators representing them as the 110 million or so people living in California, Texas, Florida, and New York, who are quite diverse. The overall disparity is fairly big. As David Leonhardt calculated, whites have 0.35 Senators per million people, while Blacks have 0.26, Asian-Americans 0.25, and Latinos just 0.19.

The Senate is affirmative action for white people. If we had to design political institutions from scratch, nobody — not even Republicans — would be able to defend a system that massively overrepresented whites.

The Senate’s existence is not the product of divine inspiration by the Founders, as schoolchildren have been taught for generations, but the ungainly result of hardheaded political compromise between people who believed in some version of what we’d call “democracy” and people who didn’t. The Founders mostly hated the idea of a one-state, one-vote chamber. They grudgingly accepted it as (in James Madison’s formulation) a “lesser evil,” needed to buy off small states like Delaware.

Obviously, the Constitution contained lots of political compromises. In most cases, the system has evolved toward the principle of one-person, one-vote

The Senate has oddly evolved in the opposite direction. The disparity in size between states has exploded. When the Constitution was written, the largest state had less than 13 times as many people as the smallest. Today, the largest state has nearly 70 times as many people as the smallest. As absurd as the likes of Madison and Hamilton considered a legislative chamber equalizing a 13-to-1 disparity, the absurdity is now fivefold. And it continues to grow.

The Senate has also evolved a routine supermajority requirement, which the Founders did not contemplate. The Constitution requires a supermajority in a handful of expressly defined circumstances, like treaties and removing a president from office. The filibuster evolved in the 19th century, first requiring unanimous agreement, then was reduced first to two-thirds in 1917, and then three-fifths in 1975. Custom used to dictate that filibusters were rarely used tools to register unusually strong disagreement (most frequently by southerners, against civil-rights legislation). Its evolution into a routine supermajority requirement is recent.

And so the Senate now has the function of allowing the minority of the country to thwart the majority, to a degree even its critics never imagined. Arguing against the Senate, Hamilton warned, “It may happen that this majority of States is a small minority of the people of America; and two thirds of the people of America could not long be persuaded, upon the credit of artificial distinctions and syllogistic subtleties, to submit their interests to the management and disposal of one third.” The filibuster, combined with the disproportionate growth of the largest states, allows a far more dire tyranny of the minority than this. A filibuster could be maintained by senators representing a mere 11 percent of the public.

Since the Senate is inscribed into the Constitution, measures to curtail its distorting effect have centered on abolishing the filibuster and admitting Puerto Rico and D.C. (stripped of the federal areas, which would remain the District of Columbia, and its residential areas constituted as a new state, perhaps called “Douglass Commonwealth.”) The process for admitting new states is just like passing laws.

The addition of D.C. and Puerto Rico, with four new senators between them, would partially offset the Senate’s massive overrepresentation of whites and Republicans. It would not, however, eliminate that advantage completely — or even come all that close to doing so. A Data for Progress analysis found, a 52-state Senate would still give whites decided overrepresentation, but it would ameliorate the injustice.

The Senate’s arcane anti-democratic character enables extremism. By thwarting sensible liberal reforms, it emboldens left-wing radicals who paint the party as hopelessly inept, unable to deliver its promises, and unequal to the challenges of American life. If Biden’s Senate allies allow Republicans to thwart his promises, the left’s takeover of the party will accelerate.

More important, it has enabled the Republican Party’s long rightward lurch. Why should conservatives compromise their principles when they can use their counter-majoritarian power to block change? The Republican Party’s strategic response to a country that is moving demographically against it is not to adapt to the electorate but instead to thwart its will.

The defenses of the filibuster offered by the Senate’s traditionalists have a creepily familiar tone. Here are old, white, comfortable men, hesitant to make a (very small) amount of space in their elite institution for minorities. Whatever wan arguments they can offer for the status quo reek of the musty scent of clubbiness and nostalgia. They can hardly make the case that the system works, but it surely works for them.

Several years of heavy use have dulled the sharp edge of the word “reckoning.” But if there is any institution in American life that needs a reckoning, it is the U.S. Senate.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

More Wednesday Male Beauty


Trump Is No Friend to Blue Collar Workers

One of the ironies of the last 20 years is that working class and blue collar workers have moved to support the Republican Party even though the GOP's reverse Robin Hood policies have been harmful to this segment of American society. The situation has become even more extreme under the Trump/Pence regime which has accelerated policies harmful to these workers offering nothing but appeals to overt racism, Christofascist extremism and xenophobia.  The image above sadly depicts this reality and one has to wonder how much worse things need to get before these Americans wake up to the reality that they are their own worse enemies.  A piece at CNN looks at all the ways that Trump/Pence has been harmful to the economic interests of blue collar workers.  Here are article highlights:

It has long been confounding that President Donald Trump's strongest supporters are Whites with only a high school education. This is bewildering because the Trump administration has repeatedly and systematically hurt America's blue-collar workers and favored corporations over them.

Although Trump ran in 2016 as a champion of the working class, he has undermined them again and again. His administration has adopted no enforceable rules whatsoever to protect these workers from the spread of Covid-19, not for factories, construction sites, warehouses or any other places where his most loyal followers are at risk of getting sick and dying. 

Trump is pushing hard to kill the Affordable Care Act, which has made health coverage available and affordable to millions of working Americans, including those with pre-existing conditions. 

Trump has made it easier for Wall Street firms to take advantage of workers when handling the hard-earned money in their 401(k)'s by scrapping the "fiduciary rule" that required the firms to act in the best interest of workers, rather than in the firms' best interests. 

The administration has joined Senate Republicans in pushing to take away workers' right to sue an employer if they contract Covid-19 on the job. 

Trump replaced an Obama-era rule that had extended overtime protections to millions more workers with a far narrower rule, meaning that millions of blue-collar Americans will no longer qualify for overtime pay. 

Nor has Trump done anything to lift the minimum wage, a basic step that would not only help lift many low-wage workers out of poverty, but also lift the wages for millions of blue-collar workers who make more than the minimum. 

During the 2016 campaign, Trump vowed to spend $1 trillion to improve the nation's decaying roads, bridges and airports. His nebulous infrastructure plan was supposed to create hundreds of thousands of good-paying middle-class jobs, especially for construction workers. But Trump has not gotten to square one on infrastructure. Could it be to Trump's 2017 tax cuts that tilted in favor of rich Americans and corporations? 

Trump has appointed federal judges who have systematically favored corporate America over workers. 

His Supreme Court appointee, Neil Gorsuch, provided the deciding vote to let corporations prohibit workers from bringing class actions to sue their companies, for instance, for cheating workers on overtime or not paying government-required wages on construction projects. That ruling relegates aggrieved workers to individual, behind closed doors arbitrations, which greatly favor companies over workers. 

Trump's administration and judicial appointees have worked aggressively to weaken labor unions, the one institution that does most to speak for workers and increase their pay. 

Once Covid-19 arrived, Trump did astonishingly little to save workers' jobs; he has done far less than European governments -- including Boris Johnson's conservative government in Britain.

[M]any European governments made sure that workers kept their jobs by agreeing to underwrite 80 or so percent of corporate payrolls so long as companies didn't lay off their workers. But the Trump administration did little to deter large corporations from laying off workers, and its Paycheck Protection Program -- which sought to discourage small businesses from laying off workers by making federal loans available to them that would be forgiven if they kept their employees -- was not nearly as effective in preventing layoffs as hoped. 

If you are a blue-collar worker who cares about opportunities for your children, you should realize that Trump has in ways made it harder for them. He has repeatedly pushed to scale back federal loans and grants for non-affluent students, changes that could increase the cost of higher education for student borrowers by more than $200 billion over 10 years. 

His administration has blocked efforts to stop for-profit colleges from ripping off veterans -- many from blue-collar families -- after many veterans were bilked out of tens of thousands of dollars. 

If you're a blue-collar worker, whether White, Black or brown, who cares primarily about banning abortions or bashing immigrants or having right-wing judicial appointments, then Trump is your guy. But if you are a blue-collar worker who cares about your economic well-being and opportunities for your children, Trump is not your friend.

Wednesday Morning Male Beauty


November 2020: A Choice Between the Future and the Past

One can either evolve with the world or try to cling to the past.  The former allows one to face the future and innovation and strive for new successes and opportunities.  The later means closing one's eyes to changes that cannot be stopped and trying to freeze time.  The later never works in the long run.  Ask Southern slave owners who resisted the end of slavery.  Ask the Russian aristocracy that on the eve of revolution tried to ignore change and the future.  Ask the British aristocracy that tried to pretend that WWI had not changed everything in society. The same fate will overcome Donald Trump's white supremacist and Christofascist base sooner or later. Time and the future will not stop for them no matter who hard they try to stop or even turn back the clock.  The 2020 elections encapsulate this choice: Trump and the GOP want a return to the 1950's while Biden and the Democrats seek to embrace the future and a changed America that will ultimately come to pass despite the efforts of reactionaries and bigots who now are the face of the GOP.  A column in the New York Times looks at this choice that faces America.  Here are excerpts:

Already, I am dreaming of the debate.

There’s Mike Pence, white of hair as well as cheek, his demeanor more starched than his dress shirt, his smile so tight it’s the twin of a grimace. He represents more than the Trump administration, God help him. He represents an America that’s half memory, half myth.

And there’s Kamala Harris — younger, blacker and more buoyant. She’s only the fourth woman on the presidential ticket of one of the country’s two major political parties and she’s the first woman of color. She represents an America that’s evolving, fitfully, toward equal opportunity and equal justice.

Under her gaze, Pence has to defend a racist, sexist president. As he watches helplessly, Harris gets to talk about how that racism and sexism feel to a Black woman like her. This isn’t any ordinary clash of perspectives and philosophies. It’s an extraordinary collision of life experiences.

And that’s exactly what Joe Biden wants.  . . . . Biden has defined himself as the opposite of President Trump in experience and earnestness and as the antidote to Trump in how he sees America and what he values about it. He has used his choice of a running mate to hammer home that last bit.

Harris is a distinguished public servant with a résumé — U.S. senator from California, state attorney general — unquestionably suited to this exhilarating and daunting opportunity, which she has earned. She is also an agent of contrast, emphasizing the difference between the Republican ticket and the Democratic one, between Trump’s politics of division and Biden’s politics of inclusion.

But even as she affirms Biden’s orientation toward the future, she reflects his appreciation of his own past. She enables him, for a second time, to be part of a presidential ticket that sets a precedent and blazes a trail. It’s almost as if he’s trying to recreate the established magic, to repurpose the victorious script.

In selecting Harris, Biden had to forgive her attacks during a Democratic primary debate for his past alliances with segregationists and his opposition to busing to integrate public schools. He and his aides considered that a cheap shot. They clearly got over it.

Choosing any of the Black women on Biden’s list of prospective running mates would have sent the kind of signal that Harris’s selection does. Choosing any of them would have recognized how crucial Black voters were to the success of Biden’s primary campaign and how crucial they’ll be in the general election.

So why Harris and not Susan Rice, Karen Bass, Val Demings, Keisha Lance Bottoms or Stacey Abrams? Because Biden obviously believes the polls that give him a significant lead over Trump and wants above all to protect it. Harris is the safest of the bunch.

A primary and a general election are utterly different beasts. Harris ran for the Democratic presidential nomination against a huge field of other Democrats. She’s running for the vice presidency against Trump and Pence, and there’s a real chance that the same Black voters who were cool to her in the primary will thrill to her now that she’s on a history-making ticket, prosecuting the case against a president who has consistently and deeply offended them.

She brings to that ticket some of the balance that presidential candidates typically want their running mates to bring. Biden is 77. She’s 55. Biden is East Coast. She’s West Coast. Biden is a white guy, like all but four of the major-party presidential or vice-presidential nominees before Harris. She’s not.

And oh, can she be nimble and fierce. That’s what Biden learned in that tense primary debate, cheap shot or no cheap shot. That’s what Jeff Sessions, Brett Kavanaugh and William Barr learned when they appeared before Senate committees and endured her grilling.

That’s what I hope and trust Pence will learn on Oct. 7, at the University of Utah, where the sole vice-presidential debate is scheduled to take place. A man who reputedly doesn’t like to eat alone with any woman other than his wife — it looks weird and is a recipe for trouble — will face off against a woman who’s big trouble indeed. I suspect she’ll have him for breakfast.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

More Tuesday Male Beauty


Biden picks Kamala Harris, the Daughter of Immigrants from Jamaica and India

Joe Biden announced his Vice President running mate today and while predictable in several ways her selection fills certain needs: (i) she's a seasoned campaigner and has won statewide, (ii) she can help turn out the black vote, which, if it had turned out in 2016 in 2008 numbers would have seen Hillary Clinton elected, and (iii) she can tap into the South Asian vote given that she is of one-half descent.  Yes, there will be nay-saying Democrats - the Dem's biggest problem is their own circular firing squad - and those who are in snit because their preferred candidate was not selected.  That said, politics is all about building a winning coalition and admitting that purity tests can be self-defeating. Personally, anyone who can help make Donald Trump a one term president and perhaps set the stage for his criminal prosecution once out of office in New York State or elsewhere will get my vote.  Plus, unlike John McCain's horrific VP pick - which likely cost him the election - Harris has a brain. A piece in Politico looks at Biden's selection of Harris.  Here are highlights:

Joe Biden has selected Sen. Kamala Harris to be his running mate, elevating a charismatic blue-state senator, former prosecutor and onetime 2020 primary rival who has built a reputation as an unyielding antagonist of the Trump administration.

Harris, the daughter of immigrants from Jamaica and India, was the wire-to-wire frontrunner for Biden’s No. 2 job. Her experience as a battle-tested presidential candidate, her efforts leading major law enforcement offices and her political track record of three election wins in California helped her overcome a crowded list of contenders.

Harris called joining Biden’s ticket an honor.  Biden, she wrote, “can unify the American people because he's spent his life fighting for us. And as president, he'll build an America that lives up to our ideals. I'm honored to join him as our party's nominee for Vice President, and do what it takes to make him our Commander-in-Chief.”

Harris will be the first woman, the first Asian American and the first Black vice president if elected. And Biden’s barrier-breaking pick of her comes at a time of racial reckoning in the country, plunging one of the best-known women of color in politics into a contest against President Donald Trump, who has stoked racial divisions in the White House and on the campaign trail.

Biden prioritized choosing a running mate with whom he was “simpatico,” as he frequently said, and his months-long search narrowed the list to a handful of women the campaign believed could help energize Democrats in the homestretch of the campaign. In Harris, Biden is hoping to combine both of his priorities, finding a thrilling campaigner as well as a long-term governing partner.

Biden “nailed the decision” for running mate in picking Harris, former President Barack Obama said in a statement, calling the selection of a vice presidential nominee “the first important decision a president makes.” By choosing Senator Kamala Harris as America’s next vice president,” Obama added, Biden “has underscored his own judgment and character. Reality shows us that these attributes are not optional in a president.”

The Trump campaign wasted no time knocking her as “phony Kamala” and casting Harris as a liberal Trojan horse taking advantage of an aging candidate in a statement and digital ad released on the president’s Twitter feed shortly after the news became public.

Harris’ 2020 presidential run was the first time she had lost a campaign, after a rapid rise through California. A former line prosecutor who got her start in Alameda County — the same office where former Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren once presided — Harris launched her first political run in 2003, for San Francisco district attorney, as a decided longshot. Harris ultimately defeated the incumbent after accusing him of running a dysfunctional office and not addressing rising crime rates.

While Harris cultivated the Bay Area’s wealthy and connected, she also campaigned with an ironing board, passing out leaflets at transit stops and blocking out her weekends to appear at clubs and churches in the famously left-wing city, where politics has been compared to bloodsport. Others have emerged nationally from this crucible, among them House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who became mayor of the city after the assassination of George Moscone and Harvey Milk. But none have reached the heights Harris is now touching, or risen as quickly.

As Harris celebrated her election to the Senate, Trump’s victory in the race for president loomed over her victory speech — and ushered in the next phase of her career, which now has her months away from potentially moving into a White House office alongside Biden.

“Do we retreat, or do we fight?” Harris said on election night 2016. “I say we fight. And I intend to fight.”

And former President Bill Clinton called Harris a “terrific” pick, while Hillary Clinton, the former secretary of state and 2016 Democratic nominee for president, tweeted that Harris “already proven herself to be an incredible public servant and leader. And I know she’ll be a strong partner to @JoeBiden. Please join me in having her back and getting her elected.”

Meanwhile, Sen. Bernie Sanders, who was Biden’s last rival in the Democratic primary and remains a leading voice on the left, vowed that Harris would “make history as our next Vice President.” “She understands what it takes to stand up for working people, fight for health care for all, and take down the most corrupt administration in history,” Sanders said of his Senate colleague and former 2020 foe. “Let’s get to work and win.”

Harris even got some words of support from a most unlikely corner of the political world: Sarah Palin, the 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee.

In a lengthy post on Instagram, Palin urged Harris to climb on the shoulders of herself and the first ever female vice presidential pick, Geraldine Ferraro, “and from the most amazing view in your life consider lessons we learned.”

Tuesday Morning Male Beauty


Facing A Bleak November, Republicans Look to Stoke Racism

With unemployment numbers sky high, the number of Covid-19 cases still soaring, and the economy still down for many voters, Republicans are turning to one of their few perceived tools to turn around what look to be bleak prospects for them in November: fanning white racism.  For Donald Trump, a man who has discriminated against blacks for fifty years - in the early 1970's he settled a housing discrimination case in nearby Norfolk, Virginia - but for other Republicans dog whistle racism is becoming more overt.  A principal target is the Black Lives Matter movement that is putting a spotlight on police brutality and the continued failure to deliver the political and social equality promised by the civil rights laws of the 1960's. Since the GOP's long history of "god, guns and gays" just doesn't get the traction it one did, especially in the suburbs, stoking white racial fears is all the GOP seemingly has left to offer.  A piece in Politico looks at this disgusting tactic which will make it harder for Republican voters to claim they are not racists.  Here are excerpts:

For a brief moment after George Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis policeman in late May, some members of the GOP joined calls for change as protests exploded onto streets across the country. That moment is over.

Facing possible electoral calamity, Republicans are now turning to a familiar playbook: stoking fear by trying to redefine the Black Lives Matter movement as a radical leftist mob looking to sabotage the white, suburban lifestyle.

Republicans are using two lines of attack: the Trump administration, candidates in safe red seats and right-wing social media channels seek to label the entire movement “Marxist” and anti-family as they try to energize their conservative base. Republicans running in swing districts and states, meanwhile, are tying their Democratic opponents to activists’ demands to defund police departments, while avoiding explicitly mentioning Black Lives Matter. Instead, Republicans running in competitive general election races have focused recent ads on more abstract targets like “left-wing radicals" and the "liberal mob."

It’s a distinction Democratic pollsters and lawmakers attribute to the dramatic shift in public views on police brutality, and who and what people associate with the declaration that “Black Lives Matter.” The new broad support for the movement, they say, makes it harder to tie Black Lives Matter to one person, organization or ideology.

That hasn't deterred Republicans, who have increased their criticism of the movement over the past month. On the same day President Donald Trump tweeted that Black Lives Matter was “a symbol of hate,” his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, declared to a group of reporters at the White House that "Black Lives Matter is a Marxist organization … Black Lives Matter has been planning to destroy the police for three years.”

Other Trump administration officials and Republican lawmakers, particularly those running in tough primaries, followed suit, warning, in addition, that the movement wanted to destroy the “nuclear family.” Fox News hosts, conservative talk radio personalities and think tanks such as The Heritage Foundation joined in, as well. Prager University’s “Black Lives Matter is a Marxist Movement” video released this month has over a million views on YouTube and is one of several popular videos it has produced on the topic.

So far, the GOP attempts to discredit the movement have yet to stick. With just under three months until the election, Black Lives Matter has won mainstream support across racial and partisan lines that would have been almost unthinkable six months ago. But the battle to define the movement is not over, as Trump bets he can turn the suburbs, lost to Republicans in 2018, in his favor by attempting to cast a movement for racial equality as a threat to white voters.

In a sign that the Marxism tag might already be falling flat, Giuliani took his attacks a step further Thursday, falsely accusing BLM activists of being terrorists. "These are people who hate white people," Giuliani said on Fox News. "These are killers."

Some Republican strategists believe that the combination of early summer riots, the controversial stances of some BLMGN members, plus the mainstreaming of “defund the police,” have given them an opening to diminish Democrats' current electoral advantage. Democrats and BLM organizers point to the polls, describing the GOP strategy as a nakedly racist last gasp that won’t gain traction outside the right-wing echo chamber.

“The average voter in that swing suburb is not thinking about BLM as [select] leaders of the movement,” said Jefrey Pollock, president of polling firm Global Strategy Group, who works with Democrats in swing House and Senate races. “They're thinking about the larger conversation that is happening about African Americans and racial injustice.”

So far, Republican candidates who are currently airing ads have mostly refrained from directly naming the BLM movement. In ads that aired from May 25 to the end of July, only one GOP ad in a primary race used the words “Black Lives Matter,” while saying that liberals don’t care about Black lives, and another used the term “violent thugs,” according to an analysis provided by Ad Analytics.

But as primaries pass — dragged out because of the pandemic — and general election races ramp up, Democrats in vulnerable seats are bracing for more Republicans to step up their attacks.

Monday, August 10, 2020

Monday Morning Male Beauty


How Trump Enables Russian Election Interference

U.S. Intelligence Services have confirmed that Russia is again working to interfere in the 2020 elections and to once again throw the election to Trump.  Trump has already seriously degraded  America's standing in the world and frayed decades long alliance.  Vladimir Putin no doubt figures that four more years of Trump would leave America even weaker and unable to counter Russian ambitions not to mention perhaps spell the end of American democracy.  It goes without saying the the dimwitted, racist MAGA - and Republicans in general - are Putin's useful idiots.  I see "friends" on Facebook repeatedly share and re-post false information that I am sure they have never bothered to fact check in a manner that must leave Putin with a huge grin on his face.  Worse yet, however, are Trump's efforts to silence the Intelligence Services that might otherwise warn Americans of the Russian threat and Trump's complicity in the scheme.  A column in the Washington Post looks at this frightening reality.  Here are excerpts:

“The options faced by the intelligence community during Trump’s presidency have been stark: avoid infuriating the president but compromise the agencies’ ostensible independence, or assert that independence and find yourself replaced with a more sycophantic alternative.” So writes Robert Draper in a lengthy and devastating New York Times Magazine article about President Trump’s attempts to politicize intelligence — in particular by preventing the intelligence community from speaking honestly about Russian attacks on our elections.

Nothing better illustrates the intelligence community’s struggles to protect the United States under this administration than the statement about foreign election interference issued on Friday by William Evanina, a career law enforcement official who was chosen by Trump as director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center.

This was a follow up to an anodyne statement Evanina had issued two weeks earlier warning that “Russia continues to spread disinformation in the U.S. that is designed to undermine confidence in our democratic process and denigrate what it sees as an anti-Russia ‘establishment’ in America.” Democratic members of Congress who were briefed on the top-secret findings begged for intelligence officials to be more forthcoming with the public. Evanina was — but only up to a point.

His Friday statement acknowledged that “Russia is using a range of measures to primarily denigrate former Vice President Biden” and that “some Kremlin-linked actors are also seeking to boost President Trump’s candidacy on social media and Russian television.”

Yet even while admitting that Russia is once again mounting a covert campaign to help Trump, Evanina felt compelled to balance this inconvenient reality by also saying what Trump wants to hear: that China and Iran favor Biden’s election. This moral equivalence disguises the difference between Iranian and Chinese opposition to Trump — expressed primarily through public statements and actions — and the covert disinformation campaign waged by Russia with eager assistance from Trump’s aides and enablers. “Between China and Russia, only one of those two is trying to actively influence the outcome of the 2020 election, full stop,” a senior U.S. official told The Post.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), who has been briefed on the intelligence findings, suggests that the intelligence community is still concealing the full extent of Russian interference. He wrote in a Post opinion column that “the sophisticated tactics and techniques described in [a State Department] report make Moscow’s past interference and nefarious actions look like child’s play,” and “there is much more” information — "much of it even more chilling” — that has yet to be released.

The New York Times Magazine reports that pressure from the White House forced a change in a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) issued last year to remove a finding that Russia wanted to reelect Trump.

The Times article suggests that Dan Coats was fired as director of national intelligence because he wouldn’t make the changes in the NIE that Trump wanted. His successor, Vice Adm. Joseph Maguire, did so, but his tenure as acting DNI was cut short after one of his subordinates told the House Intelligence Community on Feb. 13 that Russia wanted Trump to win. Maguire has been replaced by one Trump sycophant after another — first acting DNI Richard Grenell and now former Republican representative John Ratcliffe of Texas.

We are all suffering from scandal fatigue, but this scandal cannot be ignored: Trump does not want the intelligence community to expose Russian attacks because he is their beneficiary. This is yet another example of how Trump undermines our democracy and subordinates our national security to his personal interests. It is hard to imagine a greater or more dangerous dereliction of duty. If Trump is not held accountable in November, the damage to our institutions may become irreversible.

Sunday, August 09, 2020

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Richmond - and Virginia's - Effort to Face Its Past and Remake Its Image

I first came to Virginia just a few years after the ruling in Loving v. Virginia which ended the state's ban on interracial marriage.  While Jim Crow laws were ostensibly a thing of the past, one would not have know it in some areas of the state, especially rural areas and Southwest Virginia, and in the state capital, Richmond.   Coming from New York State, to say I experienced culture shock is an understatement.  Decades later, Virginia and Richmond are barely recognizable when compared to when I first arrived in Virginia.  Now, largely considered a "blue state" Virginia is the only state in the Old South that has extensive LGBT non-discrimination protections and is haltingly facing it history as a leader of the Confederacy and site of the capital of the Confederate States of America and as the site (just a few miles from where type this post) where the first slaves landed in the original 13 colonies.  A lengthy piece in Politico looks at Virginia's struggle to face its racist past and Richmond's black Millennial mayor who has found himself confronted with what to do with that city's Monument Avenue, a monument to the Confederacy built in the Jim Crow era.  Here are article highlights:

RICHMOND, Va.—At noon on June 2, more than a thousand people thronged the plaza outside city hall to hold the young mayor to account.

The night before, protesters had gathered in front of an equestrian statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee on the city’s famous Monument Avenue, demanding that it come down. George Floyd had been killed in Minneapolis a week earlier, and the effects were rippling across the country. Here, in the former capital of the Confederacy, the protesters targeted the nation’s most prominent memorial to the military commander who fought to protect slavery. Police officers had responded with tear gas, claiming the demonstrators were violent, and now the people gathered in front of city hall blamed the mayor, Levar Marcus Stoney, for an assault they saw as unprovoked.

When the mayor stepped out of the government building, he was met with boos and cries of “Resign!” and “Where were you last night?” A protestor handed him a red-and-white bullhorn so he could speak over the crowd, but Stoney still had trouble making his apology heard. “It was wrong, and it was inexcusable,” he said, promising that the perpetrators of the tear gas attack would be held accountable. After listening for an hour to the citizens’ complaints and frustrations, in the hope of easing the tension, he asked to join them that evening in their planned two-mile trek from the state capitol building to the site of the memorial dedicated to the man who surrendered Confederate forces 155 years ago. With scattered applause amid a few shouts of disapproval, the crowd grudgingly obliged.

Now 39, Stoney is the youngest mayor in Richmond’s history, a Black millennial who came into office promising change and embodying a fresh face for a tradition-bound city. But as the unrest following Floyd’s death expanded to a call to pull down America’s remaining monuments to Confederate figures, he found himself in an unenviable position: mayor of the city with the country’s biggest collection of Confederate monuments.

An entire boulevard laid out here in the late 19th century was lined with enormous figures of Southern leaders, starting with Lee. Monument Avenue has long been one of the city’s top tourist destinations, presided over by the 12-ton statue of the Virginia-born general that soars 61 feet above the elegant homes of Richmond’s old white families.

After 72 hours running on little food and sleep, and cheek by jowl with citizens fed up with injustice, the mayor recalled being overwhelmed by the enormity of the pedestal and figure rising into the Richmond dusk. “I was suddenly blown away by the reason they were there,” he said, “It was to send a clear message they were still in charge no matter the outcome of the Civil War.”

Later that night, over beers at his downtown apartment, the mayor recalled, he turned to his chief of staff, Lincoln Saunders. “We have to remove those monuments,” he said.

During the past decade the 283-year-old city of Richmond has drawn young professionals who transformed the once-sleepy downtown into a magnet for trendy restaurants, hip coffee shops and art galleries. It is “a city attempting to redefine itself,” in the words of longtime political analyst Bob Holsworth. Yet, despite an influx of outsiders and its plurality African American population, Richmond remains inextricably tied to its four-year role as the Confederate capital and its long history as a center of the antebellum South.

A dozen blocks from city hall sits the discreet power center of this other, older side of Richmond. A full-length portrait of Lee and other notable Confederates line the walls of the elegant Commonwealth Club, a private organization founded by the city’s white and male elite. For well over a century, this has been where business deals were struck and legislation hatched.

“Here, when members toast ‘Mr. President,’ it is said they raise their glasses to a portrait of Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy,” one reporter wrote in 1979. Women and minorities were long excluded. Douglas Wilder, the state’s first Black governor, elected in 1989, denounced it as “a racist club, a retreat from the world where social gains are being made.”

The club was founded in 1890, the same year that more than 100,000 people gathered to witness the unveiling of the Lee statue, which had been cast in Paris. The new decade marked the dawn of a grim era for African Americans. A few years earlier, Democrats had defeated a powerful coalition of Black Republicans and working-class whites and immigrants who previously had controlled the state’s General Assembly, governor’s mansion and U.S. Senate seats, as well as Richmond’s municipal government.

The victors were not the planters of the old South but a rising class of white merchants, bankers and lawyers eager to assume their mantle. In the subsequent years they rolled back impressive gains by African Americans in the wake of the Civil War. Open advocates of white supremacy, they crafted legislation that effectively prevented Black people from voting and holding office, while setting in place harsh new rules segregating the races.

Nearly all of Virginia’s more than 200 public tributes to the Confederacy, from statues to schools to U.S. military bases, were established in the four decades that followed. Richmond led the charge, and a dozen or so monuments soon dotted its prominent parks and squares. Most dramatically, the city laid out a new broad boulevard on what was then the outskirts of town with the Lee statue as its centerpiece. By 1930, five great marble and bronze memorials to prominent Confederates lined Monument Avenue, which by then was the city’s most fashionable new suburb, though one strictly off-limits to Black residents.

The city council of Charlottesville, the university town an hour northwest of Richmond, voted that February to take down its statue of Lee. A judge blocked the plan as a violation of a state law forbidding local governments from moving Confederate statues on public land without state approval. The ensuing controversy led to the “Unite the Right” rally in August 2017 that ended in numerous injuries and at least one death.

Suddenly, Confederate memorials were in the national spotlight. Stoney’s subsequent move to create a commission to study the Richmond monuments defused a potentially volatile situation.

But the panel’s recommendation to remove the Davis statue proved meaningless. Republicans were still a powerful force in the state General Assembly, and they strongly opposed all efforts to take down any Confederate monument.

Then came a pivotal moment. In statewide elections last November, Democrats gained full control of the legislature for the first time in more than two decades. They quickly passed a bill allowing counties and cities to “remove, relocate, contextualize, cover or alter” monuments, providing they went through a formal process. The bill was signed by Democratic Governor Ralph Northam in April and was set to take effect July 1.

By this spring, however, Stoney faced growing political opposition from a newly energized left. Progressives succeeded in killing a billion-dollar local development plan that he argued would revitalize a decaying part of downtown but which they saw as a giveaway to developers at the expense of needy people. Suddenly, this rising young star’s second term seemed in doubt, and several Democratic and independent rivals emerged to challenge him in the November 2020 election.

The protests following the death of Floyd, which led Northam to declare a state of emergency across the state on May 31, only heightened progressive disdain for the mayor. There was little room for awkward compromises. He needed to take a decisive stand. Stoney’s late-night decision on June 2 to take down the nation’s most prominent memorials to white supremacy placed him firmly on the side of the protestors.

There is no doubt that the mayor’s decision on June 2 upended the old Virginia custom of polite avoidance, marking a triumph for a new Virginia that no longer dodged its painful past. Moreover, what began as a temporary public safety action is likely to be permanent. By the time a judge ordered the city to halt removal of the statues, in response to a lawsuit brought by an anonymous Virginian, it was too late. All the Confederate monuments on city land, with the exception of A.P. Hill, were tucked away behind the high fence surrounding the city’s sewage treatment plant. And on August 3, the city council unanimously agreed to remove the statues permanently, an important step in the process required by law. Stoney is confident the remaining requirements will be completed soon, neutralizing the lawsuit threat by September.

His final first-term challenge may be to reshape how Virginia’s capital memorializes its fraught heritage. Monument Avenue today is punctuated with eerily empty pedestals colorfully spray-painted with social-justice slogans; but what it will look like going forward is uncertain.

Still, despite the tumult and drama of the past two months, the most commanding of all Confederate monuments in the nation remains unmoved: Robert E. Lee astride a horse atop a massive granite and marble base at the center of a grassy circle on the tree-lined Monument Avenue. It sits on a plot of land owned by the state and beyond Stoney’s control. Governor Northam wants to take Lee down, but white landowners in the neighborhood filed a suit alleging that this action would lower their property values. On August 3, a judge ordered a 90-day injunction preventing the statue’s removal. Both sides vow to fight on. Too large to be taken down by protestors, the statue and its surrounding site have since emerged as an unlikely and lively hub of communal art, activism and civic engagement. The battle to define the past, present and future of the Old Dominion—as well as that of the nation—is far from over.