Saturday, October 03, 2020

Reality Bursts the Trump World Bubble

Call it a case of karma being a bitch or perhaps even divine justice - I prefer the latter since Trump and today's GOP are the antithesis of the true Christian message - but the Covid+ diagnosis of Donald Trump and a seeming growing circle of top Republicans (3 GOP U.S. senators so far) has smacked both Trump and his enablers and sycophants square in the face with objective realty.  No amount of spin/lies on Fox News or by Trump and his endlessly truth challenged press secretary, ultimately changes the real world reality of the virus and the urgent need to follow the advice of scientists and medical experts. While the verdict is out on Trump's true condition given his regime's histories of lies to make "glorious leader" look good, one would hope that at least some segment of his anti-mask, anti-science base will belatedly wake up to reality and realize they were conned by Trump and played for fools.  Will this actually happen?  Probably not, but one can always hope. A column by Maureen Dowd in the New York Times looks at Trump's  head-on crash with reality.  Here are column excerpts:

For his entire life, Donald Trump has stayed one step ahead of disaster, plying his gift for holding reality at bay.

He conjured his own threadbare reality, about success, about virility, about imbroglios with women, even about the height of Trump Tower.

. . . . , he has created a bubble within his bubble, keeping out science and anything that made him look bad. He has played a dangerous game of alchemizing wishes to facts, pretending that he was a strong leader, pretending that the virus will magically disappear and that it “affects virtually nobody,’’ pretending that we don’t have to wear masks, pretending that dicey remedies could work, pretending that the vaccine is right around the corner.

Now, in a moment that feels biblical, the implacable virus has come to his door.

This was the week when many of the president’s pernicious deceptions boomeranged on him. It was redolent of the “Night on Bald Mountain” scene in “Fantasia,’’ when all the bad spirits come out in a dark swarm.

Upsetting as it is to see the president and first lady facing a mortal threat — and the glee and memes from some on the left were vulgar — it was undeniable that reality was crashing in on the former reality star.

Remarkable new reporting in The New York Times exposed the hoax of Trump, master businessman. Even as he was beginning to swagger around “The Apprentice” to the tune of “For the Love of Money” by The O’Jays in 2004, he was filing a tax return reporting $89.9 million in net losses. The gilt barely covered the rot.

“The red ink spilled from everywhere, even as American television audiences saw him as a savvy business mogul with the Midas touch,’’ the Times reported, adding: “the show’s big ratings meant that everyone wanted a piece of the Trump brand, and he grabbed at the opportunity to rent it out.

Tuesday’s debate pierced another reality that Trump had been hawking on Fox for months — that his opponent was an addled husk who would need performance drugs to stand at the podium, and that Trump would stride in like a colossus and clobber him in a trice.

Instead, the ugly reality was there for all to see: Trump was truculent, whiny and nasty, and Joe Biden was fine. Trump was indecent, on everything from white supremacists to Hunter Biden’s addiction, and Biden was decent.

And, in the end, the con man in the Oval Office could not con the virus. He was a perverse Pied Piper of contagion, luring crowds to his rallies and events on the White House lawn, even as he mocked the safety measures recommended by his own government, sidelined and undermined Dr. Anthony Fauci, and turned the mask into a symbol of blue-state wimpiness.

It seemed inevitable that Trump would get infected, given his insouciance on the issue of protective measures combined with his age, weight and ambitious travel schedule. He seemed oddly intent on tempting fate. Certainly, he put a lot of his fans, especially older ones in the most vulnerable demographic (like Herman Cain, who died of Covid after attending a Trump rally in Tulsa, Okla.), at risk with his dismissiveness about the virus, laxity on testing and tracing, and his insistence on continuing rallies.

Even for Trump, it was an astonishing act of hubris, asking his base to choose between paying homage to him or protecting their own lives.

How will a White House shrouded in secrecy and lies deal with a sick president who specializes in secrecy and lies?

The public never found out what happened that Saturday last year when the president was whisked off to Walter Reed medical center, a visit that was raised again this weekend, as reporters noted that we might not even know all Trump’s underlying conditions.

With the West Wing in a panic, and with Republicans feeling the White House and Senate slipping away, the Democrats made moves on two fronts.

Pelosi thought the Republicans might be more amenable to the bigger aid package that she has been pushing, now that Covid had become scarily real to them.

It also could change the dynamic of Mitch McConnell’s hypocritical push to get Amy Coney Barrett’s Supreme Court nomination crammed through the Senate, because she will have to do more of her meetings with lawmakers virtually. The Democrats now hope to slow down the rush to appoint the conservative judge who, according to news reports this week, signed a newspaper ad in 2006 that called Roe v. Wade “a barbaric legacy” and supported overturning it.

The pictures from the Rose Garden last Saturday, where President Trump nominated Judge Barrett, scream superspreader. There’s a maskless Trump and maskless Republican lawmakers and a maskless president of the University of Notre Dame and lots of hugs, kisses and handshakes. Mike Lee and Thom Tillis, both Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee, were there; on Friday they said they had tested positive for the virus, as did John Jenkins, the president of Notre Dame, and Kellyanne Conway,

It’s impossible to know how — or even whether — this illness will change the president. But hopefully it will change his skeptical followers and make them realize that this vicious microbe really is contagious, that President Trump is not invulnerable and that therefore they are not either, that crowding together at rallies is not smart, that wearing a mask is important, and that it’s not all going to disappear like a miracle.

Should Trump become seriously incapacitated or worse (the same goes for infected congressional Republicans), I find it hard not to think that just perhaps, if one believes in god, god has intervened to throw a wrench into the works of those who feign religiosity yet are the opposite of what a godly Christian should be. 

Saturday Morning Male Beauty


"Stand Back and Stand By" Should Set Off Alarm Bells

With Der Trumpenfuhrer's Covid-19 diagnosis and move to Walter Reed Medical Center the 2020 presidential race - at least on the Republican side - has been thrown into chaos.  Besides Trump and the First Lady, due to Trump/White House carelessness and defiant ignoring of medical expert recommendations, two U.S. senators and the head of the Trump campaign and others have also tested positive to the virus.  In the swirl of the news from yesterday, focus is being lost on perhaps the most frightening thing from the presidential debate on Tuesday: Trump's call to militant white supremacist groups to "stand back and stand by."  Even before the debate, as USA Today reported a survey from the Democracy Fund + UCLA Nationscape Project, 56% of Americans disapprove of Trump's handling of race – a six-percentage point increase from February. I can only suspect that that number has now increased.  A column in the New York Times looks at the dangerous element of society that Trump has given his apparent validation.  Here are highlights:

When asked to condemn “white supremacists and militia groups” during his debate with Joe Biden this week, President Trump gave a largely garbled answer, asking for definitions and caveats, attempting to misdirect attention to leftist violence, and repeatedly interrupting the moderator. One part of his answer, however, was crystal clear. “Proud Boys, stand back and stand by,” Mr. Trump said.

Rather than condemn white power groups, Mr. Trump instead issued an unambiguous call to them to be ready.

Watchdog groups and analysts have debated about how to classify the Proud Boys. Its members explicitly disavow white supremacy in a bid for respectability, but its ideology is clearly white supremacist: Photographs of members flashing the white power sign, the presence of members at white power events and at rallies and expert analyses of the group’s online content make this clear.

They should be seen as fellow travelers with white power groups and activists. Names and tactics vary, but the white power movement is united in ideology and intent. Its adherents include propagandists calling for the end of non-European immigration, those who carry out attacks mislabeled “lone wolf” violence in places like El Paso, Pittsburgh, Charleston, S.C., and Christchurch, New Zealand, and groups that train secretly for war, like the Base, and even for nuclear war, like Atomwaffen Division.

It also includes members of the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazi and racist skinhead groups, and large segments of the Boogaloo Boys and extralegal militias. This is why it is a mistake to understand Mr. Trump’s statement as directed solely to the Proud Boys — which had, before the night was over, incorporated “Stand Back, Stand By” into a badge logo. Other groups aligned with the white power movement will certainly interpret Mr. Trump’s message as including them.

What binds these disparate groups is that they espouse the violent defense of white supremacy. They see the white race as under attack — from immigration, from the rise of the nonwhite population, and from the acceptance of multiculturalism by much of the nation.

For them, defending the white race and white culture from these forces requires a violent attempt to stop the country’s demographic changes. Some of them wish to provoke race war, overthrowing the nation itself. Others simply wish to attack immigrants and keep people of color from voting.

But there is something new today: The president and his administration are at war on the democratic process, as we see in his weakening of the Post Office and the credibility of mail-in ballots, in calls for “poll watchers” that are clear invitations for intimidation, and in statements by Mr. Trump that cast doubt on his willingness to accept the results of the election.

Not only does “Stand back and stand by” fail to denounce and disavow white supremacist violence, it seems to be a call to arms and preparedness. It suggests that these groups, who are eager to do violence in any case, have the implicit approval of the state.

The groups Mr. Trump declined to disavow will interpret attempts to clarify to be merely strategic denials. He did not, in his initial statement, specify a moment for which the Proud Boys ought to “stand by.” But if Mr. Trump loses, they will surely move from “stand by” to “engage,” prepared to take violent action. If Mr. Trump wins, they will likely believe that they are an unofficial apparatus of state violence.

Because of my research on the white power movement’s history, I regularly hear from people sounding the alarm. They are advocates who try to deradicalize those attempting to leave white power groups. They are watchdogs that monitor white power internet activism. They are people at tech companies charged with flagging hate speech, and who are exhausted by the sheer magnitude of the task and the hatefulness they encounter.

[P]eople in his [Trump’s] own Department of Homeland Security and F.B.I., who have repeatedly identified white power as the most prominent source of domestic terrorism. Whistle-blowers like Elizabeth Neumann and Brian Murphy at the Department of Homeland Security have been warning of insufficient resources and will to confront this problem at the highest levels of the Trump administration.

Many of these people predict increasing violence from now through the election, and after, regardless of winner. The white power movement has long sought not only to intimidate voters — which it has done — but also to inflict mass casualties. There is no reason to think that strategy will change.

Piecemeal responses to the coordinated recruitment of active-duty military personnel and other groups with similar expertise have not sufficiently stopped the flow of weapons, tactics, and training to these groups.

We are decades, if not generations, into this problem. A call to arms like “stand back and stand by” is nothing less than catastrophic.

Friday, October 02, 2020

More Friday Male Beauty


A Never/Trumper on Trump and Covid: What Did You Expect?

Between driving to and from court and driving to and from the firm's Virginia Beach later in the day I spent a good deal of time listening to satellite radio - the POTUS channel to be exact - which included an interview with a public health expert who stated that their big surprise was that Donald Trump had not contracted Covid-19 long before now give his and his White House administration's constant refusal to follow health care expert recommendations, including social distancing and wearing masks. Now, the chickens have finally come home to roost and Trump, his wife, other White House staff, at least one Republican senator have all contracted the virus.  More frightening to health experts is the likelihood that various of Trump's events over the last week may prove to be super spreader events with everyone from donors to campaign staff and security detail personnel having been exposed. David Frum, a fervent Never/Trumper and former Republican has a column in The Atlantic that states the all too obvious: what did people expect given Trump's narcissism and care only about himself/satiating his ego.  No one should be surprised and if anyone is entitled to concern and deference it is the innocents - which excludes his MAGA followers - who because of Trump and his constant failures in the context of the coronavirus have become sickened or died.  The irony now is that some say Trump deserves the type of sympathy and "good thoughts" that he has never afforded to others.  Here are column excerpts: 

There is a great deal you have every right to expect at this moment of crisis, and no reason at all to believe that Donald Trump or his White House will provide it.

You cannot expect this White House to tell the truth about Trump’s health. His doctors have lied about the president’s weight and height. They have never offered an adequate explanation of his sudden, unscheduled visit to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center a year ago. Even the fact that a close aide to the president had tested positive for the coronavirus was kept from the public until Bloomberg broke the news.

You cannot expect the White House to produce any orderly plan for the execution of Trump’s public duties, even to the very limited extent that Trump executed public duties in the first place. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was diagnosed with COVID-19 on April 6 of this year. Johnson formally deputed Foreign Minister Dominic Raab to preside over the government during his own incapacity. But the pattern in the Trump administration has been that the president will not and cannot do the job himself, and that he vengefully strikes down anyone who tries to do the job for him.

Trump fired his most successful chief of staff, John Kelly, for trying to force him to work. Kelly’s successor, Mick Mulvaney, survived by enabling Trump “to act as he chooses—a recognition that trying to control Trump is a futile approach,” as Politico’s Nancy Cook put it. Likewise, Vice President Mike Pence had better be awfully circumspect about filling the role that the Constitution and its Twenty-Fifth Amendment assign him. Trump will be watching. So long as Trump is conscious, he will not allow it; should he lose consciousness, he will retaliate when and if he recovers.

You cannot expect the White House to exhibit any regard for the health of others. [Trump] The president knowingly exposed his wife, his adult children, his staff, his donors, and his supporters in the Cleveland debate hall. He refused and forbade the most basic safety precautions in the close quarters of the West Wing and on Air Force One, except for testing, which was intended to protect him personally. On Tuesday, Trump was on the debate stage mocking former Vice President Joe Biden for wearing face masks; as the positive tests came in, he did not bother to inform Biden or his team that Trump had exposed him to the coronavirus.

Until we know the date of Trump’s last negative COVID-19 test, we can only guess at the number of people he exposed. By sticking to an aggressive travel schedule with in-person gatherings while eschewing even minimal safeguards, Trump has carried the risk of disease across the country.

You cannot expect Trump to gain any wisdom, empathy, or compassion for others. Throughout the pandemic, Trump has disdained the hardships suffered by sick and dying Americans, by their families and neighbors, by those who have lost jobs and homes.

What you can expect is a lot of victimhood and self-pity. Trump and those around him have always demanded for themselves the decencies that they refuse others. They will get them, too. Trump’s opponents will express concern and good wishes—and if they do not, Trump’s allies will complain that those opponents are allowing politics to overwhelm human feeling.  It was only three days ago that Trump on a debate stage dismissed Biden’s dead son, Beau, and falsely claimed that Biden’s surviving son, Hunter, had been dishonorably discharged from the military. . . . Now, though, we will hear a lot about how people are not being respectful enough to a president in his time of illness.

Trump has all his life posed a moral puzzle: What is due in the way of kindness and sympathy to people who have no kindness and sympathy for anyone else? Should we repay horrifying cruelty in equal measure? Then we reduce ourselves to their level. But if we return indecency with the decency due any other person in need, don’t we encourage appalling behavior?

Americans are dead who might have been alive if Trump had met the challenge of COVID-19 with care and responsibilityor if somebody else, literally almost anybody else, had been president instead. Millions are out of work, in danger of losing their homes, living in fear. Tens of millions of young people have suffered disruption to their education, which will follow them through life. The pandemic was not Trump’s fault, but at every turn, he made things worse than they had to be—because at every turn, he cared only for himself, never for the country. And now he will care only for himself again.

Trump should never have been allowed anywhere near any public office. Wish him well, but recognize that his deformed spirit will never be well—and that nothing can be well for the country under his leadership.

The column sums up the situation well.

Friday Morning Male Beauty


How Do We Save America's Democracy

With Donald Trump testing positive to Covid-19, perhaps there will be a divine intervention, but failing that former GOP congressman Joe Scarborough has a column in the Washington Post that looks at the threat Trump and his "Proud Boys" followers pose to America's democracy.  Obviously one defense to Trump's outrages is for every eligible voter to register to vote and vote a straight Democrat ticket to hand Republicans, including Trump, an overwhelming defeat.   The danger, of course, is that Trump is actively working to sow doubts about the legitimacy of a Democrat win.  The other danger is that much of the media still has its head up its ass like in 2016 and continues to use a false equivalency standard. There is zero equivalence between Democrats and the racist Republicans who care solely about retaining power at any cost.  The next 32 days are fraught with danger.  Here are column highlights:

Reaction to the first presidential debate was swift and fierce, and the fallout from President Trump’s performance was a fitting conclusion to a month that will likely cost him reelection.

September began with Trump buffeted by reports that he denigrated dead military heroes while attacking America’s top generals. Then audio recordings were released exposing the president’s lies about a pandemic that has killed more than 200,000 Americans. Soon after, a New York Times investigation showed [Trump] the president to be both an astonishingly bad businessman and a possible tax cheat.

Then came the commander in chief’s historic meltdown in front of 73 million Americans.

Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Jon Meacham declared Trump’s behavior on the Cleveland debate stage “the lowest moment in the history of the presidency since Andrew Johnson’s racist state papers”; author and Post associate editor Bob Woodward accused Trump of “assassinating the presidency”; historian Michael Beschloss lamented that “democracy was trashed

Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, observed that just because one is familiar with Trump’s corrosive character does not make it any “less shocking when it is on full, savage display.”

Tuesday night, Trump openly displayed all his most savage, racist and autocratic impulses as a horrified world looked on.

Throughout the frenetic 90-minute performance, America’s 45th president refused to condemn white supremacists and instead encouraged the right-wing group Proud Boys to “stand by” as Election Day approaches.

The GOP’s 2020 nominee also instructed supporters to swarm voting locations, and as with his son’s similar appeal to Trump’s “army,” the effort seemed focused on intimidating voters opposed to him. [Trump] The president also used the debate to admit that Republicans were rushing Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett through the Senate to gain an extra vote for legal efforts aimed at disrupting the counting of ballots.

Trump’s disinformation campaign, his refusal to accept election results, his repeated claims that the election process will be “rigged” and his transparent efforts to sabotage the U.S. Postal Service are just some of the ways he is providing aid and comfort to America’s enemies. An aide to former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev two years ago succinctly summed up his country’s view of Trump to GQ’s Julia Ioffe: “He’s doing all of our work for us.”

For former conservatives who have defected to Trumpism, it should seem ironic that the same American movement that was long defined by its hostility to ’60s radicalism has been hijacked by a Republican president obsessed with undermining the country’s core institutions. Their dear leader has succeeded where Marxist radicals never could.

[T]he man who privately mocks people of faith has corrupted the evangelical movement through his forging of political alliances with power-hungry preachers. In reaction to this week’s debate, Christian author Beth Moore wrote, “No amount of winning is worth shipwrecking our faith.”

Now Trump is focused on wrecking our ship of state, if that is what is required for him to maintain power. Whether his autocratic efforts succeed depends on whether federal and state officials can manage the chaos that will escalate as Trump’s poll numbers decline. New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen has proposed the establishment of threat-modeling teams in media outlets that would develop a hierarchy of dangers facing democracy while prioritizing a newsroom’s focus. This construct would prevent the press from being overwhelmed by the Russian-style “fire hose of falsehood” that has become the American president’s propaganda strategy over the past four years.

How journalists, judges and elected officials sort through Trump’s lies and misinformation over the next few months will determine whether Trump begins 2021 as a private citizen pursued by creditors or as the “reelected” leader of a dying democracy.

Thursday, October 01, 2020

Thursday Morning Male Beauty


Trump Calls on Extremists to ‘Stand By’

It has become increasingly obvious that Donald Trump's main platform item is white supremacy and that much of his base, regardless of how they try to otherwise rationalize their support for Trump, are racists,  Tax cuts, so-called "religious freedom" - which amounts to a license to discriminate - and other platitudes one hears are a mere smoke screen and self-deception of what Trump's real appeal is to his base which Hillary Clinton rightly labeled as "deplorables."  What is frightening is the willingness of a percentage of this base to use violence, something Trump encourages and fans with his lies about a stolen election and fabricated stories about mail-in ballots. While in denial, part of Trump's psyche knows he is now being rejected by a growing majority of Americans and he is willing to use any means available to retain power, including violence, hence his  comment to violent white supremacists to "stand by."  It's time for anyone who doesn't support violence and racism to abandon Trump and his enablers within the Republican Party.  A column in the New York Times provides a look at Trump kindred spirits and my Republican "friends" (especially the country club set that deludes itself that Trump has not remade the GOP into something hideous) need to decide if this is the company they want to keep.  Here are column highlights:

President Trump didn’t hurt Joe Biden in Tuesday’s debate, but he badly damaged our country.

Trump harmed the United States in three ways, reminding us that the biggest threat to America comes not from desperate migrants, not from “socialists” seeking universal health care and not from “anarchists” in the streets — but from the White House itself.

The first way in which Trump damaged the country was in his salute to violent extremists.

“Are you willing tonight to condemn white supremacists?” Chris Wallace, the Fox News anchor who moderated the debate, asked Trump. Trump initially dodged the question but finally asked petulantly, “Who do you want me to condemn?”

Biden suggested the Proud Boys, a militant group that is fervently pro-Trump.

“Proud Boys, stand back and stand by,” Trump declared. Stand by?

The Proud Boys, founded in 2016, are part of what the Southern Poverty Law Center calls “a fascistic right-wing political bloc.” The Anti-Defamation League compares it to a gang. The Proud Boys’ founder once said, “I cannot recommend violence enough,” and its members have brandished guns, committed criminal assaults and engaged in rioting. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram have banned Proud Boys.

. . . . .the group’s members identify as “Western chauvinist” and assert that “white men are not the problem.” They have longstanding links to racism, and a Proud Boy (since expelled) apparently was the organizer of the 2017 Charlottesville rally that drew neo-Nazis. An anti-Semitic podcast once estimated that if Proud Boys were pressed, “90 percent of them would tell you something along the lines of ‘Hitler was right. Gas the Jews.’”

The Proud Boys responded enthusiastically to Trump’s comments at Tuesday’s debate, celebrating them as “historic” and boasting that they were already bringing in new members.

After addressing the Proud Boys on Tuesday night, Trump added: “Somebody’s got to do something about antifa and the left, because this is not a right-wing problem … this is a left-wing problem.”

A careful study by the Center for Strategic & International Studies concluded that “right-wing extremists perpetrated two-thirds of the attacks and plots in the United States in 2019.”

[T]he biggest take away from the debate was that the president of the United States refused to condemn white supremacists and instead called on modern brownshirts to “stand by.” Under intense pressure on Wednesday, Trump claimed that he did not know who the Proud Boys were and urged them to “stand down”; disavowals of extremism never seem quite so sincere when they’re made only after public outrage.

The second way in which Trump damaged our country was by seeding further doubts about the election. He served as a mouthpiece for Russian-style propaganda about the illegitimacy of American democracy and laid the groundwork for postelection upheaval and violence

I’ve seen postelection violence explode abroad like a volcanic eruption. In 2008 in Kenya, covering such violence, I met a man whose wife and children had been burned to death and a 16-year-old boy who had been tortured with a machete. . . . . All this had been unimaginable until an election dispute polarized society and unleashed enraged mobs on rival groups.

Americans should stand together to disavow Trump’s words and ensure we don’t ever go a step down that road.

[T]he third way in which Trump wounded our nation: He made our country a laughingstock around the world. Trump claimed in 2016 that he would make Americans respected around the globe — but instead, we are pitied.

A Nigerian friend emailed me after the debate: “I regret to say that this is the most disgraceful public display by a leader of a developed country I have seen …. And this from the United States of Roosevelt, Kennedy, Reagan …? Good God. Sorry, Nick.”

If Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping and Al Qaeda worked together, I don’t know that they could damage the United States as deeply — unraveling our social fabric, destroying our norms, devastating our global image — as Trump has. And we still have two more presidential debates.

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

More Wednesday Male Beauty


Biden Should Refuse to Debate Trump Again

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Last night's "debate" was a dumpster fire not because of Joe Biden, but because of the malignant narcissit psychopath who currently occupies the White House.  Trump refused to adhere to the debate rules - rules his campaign agreed to - and lied more or less non-stop throughout the entire period and showed that he is little better than a loudmouthed 6th grade school yard bully.  Nothing about Trump has ever been presidential, but Trump took matters to new lows last night and made it obvious why he is despised by most foreign leaders save Putin who plays him like a violin and likely has blackmail material Trump fears.  Most frighteningly, Trump never disavowed white supremacists and his "stand down and stand by" comment suggests he will incite violence if he loses the election.  Biden should refuse any further debates and not provide Trump with two more platforms for lies and distortion of the facts, a point made by a column in the New York Times.  Trump needs to be removed from the White House - by any means necessary - and further debates does not help in achieving that cause.  Here are column highlights:

I wasn’t in the crowd of people who believed Joe Biden shouldn’t deign to debate President Trump, but put me in the crowd that believes he shouldn’t debate him again. Not after Tuesday night’s horror show: a disgrace to the format, an insult to the country, a nearly pointless 90 minutes.

And, I should add, a degradation of the presidency itself, which Trump had degraded so thoroughly already. He put on a performance so contemptuous, so puerile, so dishonest and so across-the-board repellent that the moderator, Chris Wallace, morphed into some amalgam of elementary-school principal, child psychologist, traffic cop and roadkill.

No matter how Wallace pleaded with Trump or admonished him, he couldn’t make him behave. But then why should Wallace have an experience any different from that of Trump’s chiefs of staff, of all the other former administration officials who have fled for the hills, of the Republican lawmakers who just threw up their hands and threw away any scruples they had?

Almost from the start, he talked over Biden, taunting him, demeaning him, trying to provoke him. He interrupted him and interrupted him and then interrupted him some more, all the while complaining that he, Trump, ever the martyr, was being persecuted once again.

On taxes, for example: He turned the revelation that he had paid only $750 in federal income taxes for each of two recent years into an indictment of Biden, as a former senator and vice president, for creating so many tax loopholes.

On federal judges: His boast of appointing scores and scores of them segued into a rebuke of President Barack Obama and Biden for leaving behind so many vacancies, as if they’d simply forgotten about them­. Not exactly. Mitch McConnell, the Senate’s Republican majority leader, blocked the Obama administration from filling many of them, and then, after Trump was inaugurated, abetted him.

On the integrity of the upcoming vote count: He pivoted from Wallace’s question about whether he would refrain from declaring victory “until the election has been independently certified” into a fresh exhortation that his supporters serve as poll watchers, looking out for sketchy activity. He’s going to get people hurt. I mean, on top of all the people he has hurt already.

Responding to this pile of bile, Biden was hardly a choir boy. “You’re the worst president America has ever had,” he said at one point. He repeatedly called Trump a liar and several times called him “this clown.”

Biden was right: Trump wouldn’t shut up, and wasn’t remotely presidential, and to the extent that Biden occasionally flung mud of his own, well, when you’re dragged into the pigsty, you have no other choice.

Mostly, though, Biden shook his head as Trump ranted and raged. He smiled dismissively. He looked at Wallace or at the camera or anywhere but at Trump, his lack of eye contact a suggestion that some nonsense — and some nonsense purveyors — are best ignored. His obvious strategy was to treat Trump as part spectacle, part joke, all embarrassment. Which is precisely how Trump deserved to be treated.

Only one man on that stage persuasively communicated that he has the interests of the American people at heart. Only one man on that stage seemed at all interested in maintaining a tether to the truth. Only one man demonstrated any respect for Wallace or for the process. Only one man would be bearable for the next four years.

I needn’t spell out who that man is.

But I have a message for him, and I’m serious: Don’t do this again. You showed your willingness. You showed up. But another of these fiascos is beneath you. I’d add that it’s beneath America, if there’s even such a thing anymore.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Wednesday Morning Male Beauty


Vote Democrat as if Freedom Itself Depends Upon It

Watching the first presidential debate - it took two stiff vodka's to tolerate Trump's lies and nauseating voice - it's more clear than ever that Trump is incapable of telling the truth and is solely concerned about himself.  No one and nothing matters more to Trump.  Biden provides a night and day difference and has empathy for others, not to mention a respect for the nation's democrat institutions. What is frightening is that Trump will do anything to cling to power and to hell with the truth and to the best interests of the nation and/or its people. A column in the New York Times by a long time columnist/economist lays out what must done if America is to remain a democracy and, hopefully, regain some modicum of morality.  Here are highlights:

President Trump has now made it unmistakably clear that there are only two choices before voters on Nov. 3 — and electing Joe Biden is not one of them.

The president has told us in innumerable ways that either he will be re-elected or he will delegitimize the vote by claiming that all mail-in ballots — a time-honored tradition that has ushered Republicans and Democrats into office and has been used by Trump himself — are invalid.

Trump’s motives could not be more transparent. If he does not win the Electoral College, he’ll muddy the results so that the outcome can be decided only by the Supreme Court or the House of Representatives (where each state delegation gets one vote). Trump has advantages in both right now, which he has boasted about for the past week.

I can’t say this any more clearly: Our democracy is in terrible danger more danger than it has been since the Civil War, more danger than after Pearl Harbor, more danger than during the Cuban missile crisis and more danger than during Watergate.

I began my career as a foreign correspondent covering Lebanon’s second civil war, and it left a huge impact on me. I saw what happens in a country when everything becomes politics, when a critical mass of politicians put party before country, when responsible people, or seemingly responsible people, think that they can bend or break the rules — and go all the way — and that the system won’t break.

I would like to think that such a thing could not happen in America. I’d like to think that … but I am very, very worried.

I worry because Facebook and Twitter have become giant engines for destroying the two pillars of our democracy — truth and trust. Yes, these social networks have given voice to the voiceless. . . . . But they have also become huge, unedited cesspools of conspiracy theories that are circulated and believed by a shocking — and growing — number of people.

“Politics needs a reference point outside of politics,’’ argues the Hebrew University religious philosopher Moshe Halbertal. “It needs values, it needs facts and it needs leaders who respect that there is a sacred domain of decisions that will never be used to promote political gain, only the common good.’’

Public trust is eroded, added Halbertal, when people feel that this notion of the common good doesn’t exist because everything has become politics. That describes the United States today. The institutions we have relied upon to be outside the game of politics so as to adjudicate what is right and true — scientists, certain news media, the courts — have become so ensnared by politics that fewer and fewer of them are universally trusted to define and pursue the common good. Even mask-wearing has become partisan.

You cannot sustain a healthy democracy under such conditions.

And that is why the only choice in this election is Joe Biden. The Democrats are not blameless when it comes to playing politics, but there is no equivalence to the Republicans. The Democratic Party sorted through all the choices, and, led by older Black men and women in South Carolina, rejected the Democratic socialist candidate and said they wanted a moderate unifier named Joe Biden.

The Republicans — who in the past voted for Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, sane conservatives who could be counted upon to uphold the common good — have done no such equivalent thing. They have fallen in line lock step behind a man who is the most dishonest, dangerous, meanspirited, divisive and corrupt person to ever occupy the Oval Office.

To me, the only hope for America is to elect Biden and split the G.O.P. between the Trumpists and whatever is left of the moderate Republicans, and then hope that a big center-left and small center-right can agree on enough things to propel the country forward, heal the divide and act together for the common good.

But for that to happen, Biden has to win. And that is why I have only one answer to every question now: Vote for Biden — do it by mail early if you must, but if you can, please, put on a mask and do it in person. If enough of us do that, Biden can win outright with the votes cast on Election Day, instead of waiting for all the mail-in ballots to be counted, thereby giving time for Trump and Fox News to muddy the outcome.

So help register someone to vote for Joe Biden. Phone bank for Joe Biden. Talk to your neighbor about Joe Biden. Volunteer for Joe Biden. Drive someone to the polls to vote for Joe Biden.

More Tuesday Male Beauty


The GOP Ship is Deservedly Capsizing

Over the last four years Republicans at all levels - save the NeverTrump Republicans - have been prostituting themselves to Donald Trump, lied to the American people and pushed a reverse Robin Hood agenda that has harmed a majority of Americans while further enriching the already very wealthy. Indeed, with a newly staked Supreme Court, the GOP may be about to erase health care coverage for millions of Americans and leave those with pre-existing conditions at the mercy of rapacious insurance companies. Yet, barring a coup d'etat - which I would not put past Trump -  the Trump/GOP agenda may be about to hit a brick wall as voters appear poised to send not only Trump into forced retirement but also a significant number of Republican senators who self prostitution to Trump makes a tawdry whore look virtuous in comparison.  Americans - which excludes most evangelicals - can only hope this much deserved reckoning materializes.  A column in the Washington  Post looks at the state of the GOP 35 days out from the 2020 election.  Here are excerpts:

As the electoral college map keeps expanding for former vice president Joe Biden, eventually there will be no viable path to 270 electoral votes for President Trump. Wisconsin and Michigan slid into Biden’s column weeks ago. The FiveThirtyEight poll average for Michigan has shown Biden with about a seven-point lead since June; in Wisconsin, that same lead has held steady since July. The possible question mark was Pennsylvania. It is no longer so questionable.

Biden has never trailed Trump in Pennsylvania in the FiveThirtyEight average. The last two polls look ominous for Trump. Biden leads by nine points among likely voters in both the Post-ABC News and the New York Times-Siena College polls. It should not be surprising that Pennsylvania looks more and more like Wisconsin and Michigan. In 2016, we learned those states tend to move in tandem. If Biden wins those three and nothing weird happens, that’s it. He has 278 electoral votes. But Biden has a small lead in Arizona and is essentially running even with Trump in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Iowa and Ohio — all states Trump won. Increasingly, the question is not who will win but just how big Biden’s win will be.

Now, it is a matter of holding off a deluge. Republicans face a sea of blue.

They have additional worries, given that Trump has scared Republicans off from early and absentee voting. If the race is not close on Election Day, many Republicans will not bother showing up to wait in long lines. As demoralized Republicans stay home, Democrats up and down the ballot could start racking up wins in unusual places. It is not inconceivable to see Democratic Senate wins not just in Maine, Colorado, North Carolina and Arizona but in Iowa, Montana, Alaska and Georgia.

Trump may not believe this polling. He may not think lying about the severity of covid-19 or insulting the troops or evidence his business losses are so large that he is vulnerable to foreign influence matters. But they do. Republicans can read the polls with less self-delusion. They see Trump’s numbers collapsing. Worse, they see their own races going to seed. One need only look at Sen. Lindsey O. Graham’s pathetic, desperate pleading for money for his South Carolina race to see that they know all too well: Trump is dragging them under.

Republicans might start overtly separating themselves from Trump on his attacks on mail-in voting. They might even suggest it is just not right for someone who claims to be very, very rich (let’s dispense with the notion he’s a billionaire; in all likelihood, he is worth “only” seven figures) to pay no taxes.

These things might help, but frankly the only chance for some of them is to plead: Don’t give Biden a blank check. And that’s precisely what he will have if Trump drags Republican senators under. It would be fitting if they join the ranks of the unemployed they could not spare time to support.

Tuesday Morning Male Beauty


Historians Rate Trump’s Grave Danger to Democracy

Among my Republican "friends" my deduction is that those who are not racist remain focused on their tax bills and money and, therefore are unwilling to open their eyes to the threat Donald Trump poses to America's democracy, not to mention traditional standards of decency and morality.  Some may even applaud his tax avoidance tactics - assuming they don's involve out and out tax fraud, a distinct possibility - while the rest of us are viewed as suckers for paying taxes (the husband and I recently paid roughly 53 times Trump's last reported tax payment).  Seemingly, no thought is given to the damage Trump is doing to the nation's institutions and the morally bankrupt example he provides for children and youths who are more aware of his immorality than many like to assume. Historians who study who study nations that have fallen into dictatorship, however are very brutal in their rating of Mr. Trump.  A piece in New York Magazine looks at the danger and the need of everyone opposed to his agenda - and targeted by his racism and pandering to Christofascists - to register and get out and vote in November.  Here are article highlights:

The reaction couldn’t have been more different from leading scholars and historians who study countries that have fallen into dictatorship. A half-dozen prominent academic figures interviewed by Intelligencer warned of extreme danger for the country and analogized the United States right now to Eastern European and Latin American countries that faced a breakdown of the democratic order and sometimes plunged into autocracy as a result. Even so, they cautioned that analogies are only so useful given the unprecedented nature of events in the United States.

Harvard political scientist Steven Levitsky, the co-author of the book How Democracies Die, noted the chance of “an outright stolen election and Trump refusing to give up power … is quite low.” But he noted “the chances of a serious crisis are probably 50-50 at this point. Particularly given that there is a good chance even though Biden is ahead [in polls], given the distribution of voting on election night that Trump could either be tied or ahead.” He added that “the one thing I’m confident about that Trump will cry fraud, so I think there is a pretty good chance of a serious crisis on Election Night that will make Florida in 2000 look like a walk in the park.”

But while Levitsky conceded, “I don’t think fascism is around the corner … we’re not headed for 20 years of a Trump dictatorship,” other experts were more concerned.

“It’s hard for me as an historian to think of a coup d’├ętat as well telegraphed in advance,” warned Timothy Snyder, a professor at Yale and a scholar of Eastern Europe’s blood-soaked history.

Snyder noted that Trump’s repeated comments dismissing the legitimacy of the election “make it clear to us that he wants to stay in power illegally.” In Snyder’s view, this is “characteristic of an authoritarian or pre-authoritarian situation.” He said that there will likely be a power struggle after the election unless the Democrats win decisively. He analogized the situation to Serbia in 2000 where the opposition to President Slobodan Milosevic knew “that it had to win by at least ten points … by some kind of margin that looks big.”

With Trump under apparent criminal investigation, Snyder saw Trump in “a classic authoritarian position. He has to win for its own sake, he doesn’t want to go to prison.”

“He knows he’s broken lots of laws and wants to die in his own bed.

There was also debate about how much of the danger is due to Trump’s unique personality and how much is about institutional rot within the United States. Valerie Bunce, a political scientist at Cornell, said “as someone focused on institutions, all democracies have flawed institutional designs and there are always tradeoffs.”

Scholars repeatedly pointed to the Electoral College as one such flaw that has led the loser of the popular vote to win the White House twice this century. A repeat of this scenario is a particular danger in the view of Joshua Tucker, a professor at New York University and co-director of NYU’s Center for Social Media and Politics. “Eventually, at some point people are no longer going to see the system as legitimate and that is a serious concern,” he said.

Trump’s complete takeover of the Republican Party also prompted scholars to point to parallels abroad. The best example, according to Bunce, was Hungarian strongman Viktor Orban, who remade the Fidesz political party into the standard-bearer for his vision of “illiberal democracy.” But Bunce also noted that Orban, who has drawn praise from Trump and many in the his inner circle, had structural advantages that Trump does not.

Domestic parallels were harder to come by. Sean Wilentz, an award-winning historian at Princeton University, thought the “the great parallel” was the election of 1860 where slaveholders were not willing to accept any Republican president and seceded when Abraham Lincoln was elected. Granted, Wilentz said the “ideological issues today were not quite as sharp,” and the country is not as purely sectional . . . .

Indeed, comparisons only go so far. As Levitsky put it, “It’s hard to come up with parallels because there are so few cases of established stable democracies in wealthy countries that have had a crisis like this.”

The ultimate specter for those who study the decline of democracy is, of course, Germany and the rise of Adolf Hitler.

Zilblatt said he once laughed off comparisons of the U.S. to the Weimar Republic, noting Germany in the early 1930s “had a major economic crisis and the trauma of millions of people dead in World War I.” However, while it’s not exactly the same, Zilblatt said Americans are nevertheless “suffering economically and from the trauma of death and being isolated” amid a recession and a pandemic that has left over 200,000 dead barely a month before Election Day.

Obviously, neither Hitler nor fascism is coming around the corner in the United States. But, the fact that such a comparison can even be considered by a serious political scientist with a straight face shows how far things have degenerated.

Monday, September 28, 2020

Monday Male Beauty


Tax Return Bombshell: Trump Just Lost Control of the Game

The New York Times has scored a coup and obtained copies of Donald Trump's tax returns covering close to a 20 year period.  The story they tell is that of a con man who has duped many into believing he is a skilled businessman.  They also reveal that Trump has paid almost no federal income taxes for that same period of time. Indeed, his working class supporters pay many multiples of what Trump has paid.  No doubt Trump see such people as suckers as he continues to milk U.S. taxpayers while in office. The returns also show that Trump has a mountain of debt that will be coming due with the next few years.  In response, Trump - true to form - lied and called the times reporting "fake news."  Now, a piece in The Atlantic suggests that Trump may have lost control of the narrative in these last days before the 2020 election despite which will no doubt see strenuous efforts on Trump's part to distract and change the conversation.  Here are column highlights:

Remember: Back in 2015, when Donald Trump announced his campaign for president, about one-third of Republicans and Republican-leaners condemned the distribution of wealth in the United States as unjust. Those class-aggrieved Republicans believed that high earners paid too little in tax and wanted taxes on corporations and rich people raised, not cut. Those were the Republicans who rejected Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz—and elevated Trump as the party nominee instead.

Trump voters were more economically pessimistic than other Republicans. They were more racially aggrieved. They identified themselves as people who worked, who were mooched upon from below and exploited from above.

Trump spoke powerfully to those voters. He told them a story about corrupt elites, symbolized first by his Republican rivals, then by Hillary Clinton. . . . . He alone would bring class justice to this country, redirecting benefits from the super-rich to deserving people such as themselves. On Fox & Friends that August, he complained about financiers avoiding taxes: “They should be taxed a fair amount of money,” he said. “They’re not paying enough tax.” He committed that when he got hold of power, he would sacrifice his own interests to look out for the people who had trusted him.

Trump repeatedly insisted that the presidency had “cost me billions.” In an October 2018 call to Fox & Friends, he estimated the loss at $2 billion to $3 billion. At a press conference a year later, he upped the estimate of his sacrifice to $5 billion. Trump’s son Don Jr. compared the family’s sacrifices to the heroism honored at Arlington National Cemetery. In his book Triggered, he described his feelings on a visit to Arlington: “In that moment, I also thought of all the attacks we’d already suffered as a family, and about all the sacrifices we’d have to make to help my father succeed—voluntarily giving up a huge chunk of our business and all international deals to avoid the appearance that we were ‘profiting off the office.’”

The definitive debunking of this lie now does two things.

First, it melts Trump’s support a little more. Trump’s hopes for 2020 depended on fantastic overperformance with white voters without college degrees. He’s lost so much support elsewhere that he must hold every last member of his core group. He doesn’t need to decline much among these voters to convert any faint hope of success into certainty of disaster.

Second, and perhaps more important, the ink-on-paper confirmation of Trump’s indebtedness, tax dodging, and all-around crookedness will get into Trump’s head. His political project through the pandemic has been to mess with his opponents by hurling one crazy distraction after another. Now, suddenly, it’s his own decision loop that has been disrupted. On the preexisting trajectory of the 2020 campaign, Trump was going to lose—and probably lose big. He needed something to happen either to help him or, more plausibly, to push the Biden camp into some mistake or misstep. Now the banana peels have been dumped beneath his own feet.

At a press conference on the afternoon the New York Times Trump tax story broke, he denounced as false the report that he had paid only $750 in tax in 2017. Watch his face as he issued the denial, though, and you can see him belatedly foresee the follow-up question: “But can you give people an idea of how much you actually are paying?” Trump was visibly scrambled.

Scrambled, too, are whatever plans Trump may have had for the first presidential debate tomorrow night. He may try to huff and puff—a tactic that might have saved the day if he were sitting on a lead. Instead, he’s trying to climb out of an eight-to-10-point deficit. Gravity is now pulling harder against him.

For once in his life, Trump seems tongue-tied. His supporters, even those willing to be shameless, have been left to desperately contrive messages of their own. They are not doing a very good job, in part because they must worry about the line that Trump will eventually want them to take, when he finally announces a line. Not many days and hours remain, and Trump has abruptly lost almost any vestige of control over either the game or the clock.

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Sunday Morning Male Beauty


The Danger of Minority Party Rule

With Donald Trump's nomination of Amy Corny Barrett - a religious extremist even in the eyes of most Catholics - to the U.S. Supreme Court and the Republican controlled Senate's plan to ram through her confirmation, the majority of American are about to get a real lesson in the danger of minority party rule.  Those likely to suffer are women, blacks, members of the LGBT community and religious minorities as Barrett joins other right wing justices who believe they have the right to impose their beliefs on all Americans.  Given the structural defects in America's constitutional structure, namely the Electoral College and, perhaps even worse, the two senator per state structure, short of a blow out win by Democrats in November and a restructure of the Supreme Court, the likely damage to civil rights may be difficult to stop.  A piece in the Washington Post looks at these dangers and indirectly poses the question of when will the majority revolt.  Here are highlights:

Before the end of the year, Amy Coney Barett will probably be sworn in as a Supreme Court justice — and she may serve for decades. She will have been appointed by an impeached president who lost the popular vote in 2016 and may well continue in office after losing it again in 2020. She will almost certainly be approved by senators representing less than 45 percent of the American population.

Our nation is moving even deeper into minority rule: The House aside, the U.S. government is controlled by the less popular party in a polarized two-party system. We may call this unfair, but that would trivialize the problem. It is entirely permissible under the Constitution, and it is dangerous. When the majority of a nation’s citizens can’t get its candidates elected or its preferred policies passed, the government’s legitimacy is compromised and destabilizing pressure begins to build.

The tendency toward minority rule in the United States, present since the founding, has become more acute. That’s certainly true in the Senate: California has 68 times as many residents that Wyoming has, but the same number of senators. The disparity in population size between the biggest and smallest states is far greater than anything the founders knew.

Residents of rural, sparsely populated states are vastly overrepresented in the Senate. And because the electoral college is based on the number of federal representatives, this rural-state overrepresentation plays out in the selection of presidents, as well.

The House, the most democratic institution in the three branches of government, has no role in selecting Supreme Court justices. That’s the purview of the president and the Senate, which means that the composition of the high court has a minoritarian, rural-state bias built into it as well.

Should a Trump nominee be confirmed, the Supreme Court will consist of six justices appointed by Republicans, even though the party has won the popular presidential vote only once in the past seven elections (George W. Bush, in 2004).

On its own, a rural state bias in representation is potentially problematic but not invidious. Plenty of issues in rural states should receive national attention, of course. But the problems mount when one party dominates the rural areas and the other dominates the urban ones, which is where we stand today. Republicans essentially get bonus points: They can be the less popular party and still get to govern.

This presents a further problem: How are Democrats to respond to an increasingly extreme, Trumpist Republican Party? Democratic leaders, when pressed with examples of Trump’s latest malfeasance, typically respond with, in effect, a one-word answer: “Vote.” It’s good advice, of course. But what if it’s not enough? What if Democrats continue to bring more people to the polls than Republicans but Republicans maintain control of most of government?

But how many such defeats will they take in stride? There may be a tipping point at which the situation becomes intolerable.

When well more than half the country votes for one result — over and over — and continues to get another, the situation is unsustainable. This is how a government loses its legitimacy. Governments worldwide facing legitimacy crises have been faced with struggling to govern, as we saw in the Philippines under Ferdinand Marcos, or brutally cracking down on protests, as we saw in Egypt under Hosni Mubarak and continue to see under Abdel Fatah al-Sissi. It’s an ugly situation, and the United States is not immune.

Reform is possible — in theory. The Constitution can be amended to substantially change the electoral college procedure, as happened in 1804 when the 12th Amendment was ratified, allowing separate votes for president and vice president. But as long as one party considers the current system advantageous, it’s hard to imagine such an amendment attracting the supermajority support needed to pass. Other reforms — such as an interstate compact that would make presidential elections subject to the popular vote — are possible without an amendment.

And that reform, too, faces the brutal logic of minority rule: The party in power will fight desperately to keep its entrenched advantage (and deepen it, if possible). Almost by definition, the longer the anti-democratic spiral continues, the harder it becomes to reverse. And it’s not a counterargument to say that the advantages the Republicans have today are “constitutional.” In fact, that’s the heart of the problem.