Saturday, December 05, 2020

Saturday Morning Male Beauty


Why Covid is Surging - Look No Further Than Campbell County

I recently communicated with a blog reader from New South Wales, Australia who indicated to me that in that Australian state there had been no new cases of positive testing of Covid-19 in five weeks.  How did Australia do this? A piece in the Washington Post from last month that can be found here sums it up: 

The nation of 26 million is close to eliminating community transmission of the coronavirus, having defeated a second wave just as infections surge again in Europe and the United States.

Australia provides a real-time road map for democracies to manage the pandemic. Its experience, along with New Zealand's, also shows that success in containing the virus isn't limited to East Asian states (Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan) or those with authoritarian leaders (China, Vietnam).

Several practical measures contributed to Australia's success, experts say. The country chose to quickly and tightly seal its borders, a step some others, notably in Europe, did not take. Health officials rapidly built up the manpower to track down and isolate outbreaks. And unlike the U.S. approach, all of Australia's states either shut their domestic borders or severely limited movement for interstate and, in some cases, intra­state travelers.

Perhaps most important, though, leaders from across the ideological spectrum persuaded Australians to take the pandemic seriously early on and prepared them to give up civil liberties they had never lost before, even during two world wars.

But unlike the Trump administration, which has criticized its primary infectious-disease adviser, Anthony S. Fauci, Hunt relied heavily on health experts from the start.

Contrast this with most of the USA where Covid-19 is surging. To date, Virginia has been doing better than many states, but not with the help of right wing portions of the state and/or Trump cultists across the state.  With the only nation's doctor/governor, Virginia has sought to follow the advice of medical experts to be met with cries of tyranny among those embracing ignorance.  A prime example is Campbell County (the population is 83.24% white) just south of Lynchburg, a city tainted by Liberty University and Thomas Road Baptist Church, the seat of the Falwell empire. Not surprisingly, over 71% of the vote in Campbell  County went to Donald Trump. Now, the county board of supervisors has voted to defy the state restrictions on social gatherings and directed it officials to refuse to cooperate with state health department officials. NPR looks at the batshit insanity which will only increase the spread of the pandemic (and, with luck Darwin's theory will .  Here are highlights:

Campbell County, Va., is taking a stand against Gov. Ralph Northam's COVID-19 restrictions as its Board of Supervisors endorsed a measure Tuesday night that calls on county agencies not to enforce Northam's crowd-size limits and other orders.

The board declared Campbell County to be a "First Amendment Sanctuary" and deemed Northam's orders to violate people's constitutional rights. The move echoes the county's declaration of itself as a "Second Amendment Sanctuary" one year ago in support of gun owners' rights.

Northam imposed sharp new limits on Virginians on Nov. 15, trying to quash a rising wave of coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths. His order capped public gatherings at 25 people rather than 250, and mandated that everyone age 5 and above must wear face coverings in indoor public spaces.

The board's resolution urges the sheriff's office not to help any state or federal workers in enforcing the governor's restrictions. It also says county funds should not go toward helping to enforce or promote Northam's coronavirus orders. At least one supervisor acknowledged the resolution will likely have more symbolic impact than a direct effect on day-to-day operations.

[M]any supporters of the resolution visited the country's administration building in Rustburg in person, to speak out in favor of rejecting Northam's latest restrictions.

"Dozens of Campbell County residents turned out to back the resolution, many a united front in camo, blue jeans and ballcaps," The News & Advance reported. "When Concord District Supervisor Matt Cline began to read the resolution, there was a flurry of movement as they took off their face masks in a show of support. The same solidarity brought the crowd to its feet as residents praised the county for passing the resolution and, in turn, dismissed the few residents who took to the podium to speak in opposition."

Some of those supporters also implied they would back the Board of Supervisors over Northam if the governor's office seeks to overrule or retaliate against the declaration.

The idiocy is stunning.

Friday, December 04, 2020

More Friday Male Beauty


Republicans Encouraged Trumpist Havoc: Now it’s Coming for Them

When a political party proudly embraces ignorance, celebrates the most batshit crazy members of it base, and encourages unfounded conspiracy theories, its's setting itself up for disaster.  This is a lesson Republicans are now learning in Georgia the hard way as some of the most unhinged MAGA supporters are urging action that could hand both U.S. Senate seats to Democrats.  Personally, if this happens, it will be a case of near divine justice for a party that embraced deplorables and prostituted itself - and basic morality - to Der Trumpenfuhrer. Two decades ago when I was still a GOP activist and GOP City Committee member I saw the beginnings of this embrace of the deranged and reprehensible and opted to resign from the GOP and begin working to defeat GOP candidates wherever and whenever possible.  I suspect that the GOP establishment - or what's left of it - is now wishing it had done the same thing as it sees the MAGA insanity threaten the party's chance of winning the Georgia U.S. Senate runoff elections next month.  The best thing that can happen to the GOP is that its candidates lose both races and, with luck, sane individuals (which by definition excludes Christofascists and Trump cultists) will eventually regain control of the party.  A column in the New York Times looks at the insanity racking the GOP.  Here are highlights:

Gabriel Sterling, a Georgia election official and longtime Republican, held a news conference this week in which, with barely contained rage, he excoriated Donald Trump’s lies about voter fraud and the threats of violence those lies inspired.

He railed against Trump’s campaign lawyer, Joseph diGenova, who called for the shooting of Christopher Krebs, a federal cybersecurity official fired by Trump for saying that the election wasn’t rigged. (DiGenova later claimed he was joking.) Sterling described a “20-something tech” involved in the vote tabulation who was getting death threats.

The next day, Georgia’s secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, expressed his support for Sterling. “It’s about time that more people were out there speaking with truth,” he said. His office had asked Trump to “try and quell the violent rhetoric being born out of his continuing claims of winning the states where he obviously lost,” he said, to no avail. Trump’s language, said Raffensperger, was creating a “growing threat environment for election workers who are simply doing their jobs.”

Along with many other state-level Republican election officials, Sterling and Raffensperger have shown admirable commitment to the rule of law. Their refusal to participate in Trump’s attempted autogolpe helped avert a constitutional crisis. Yet it’s hard not to notice that their outrage is a bit selective.

There is nothing new about Trump inciting harassment against private citizens, or of his lackeys calling for violence against the president’s opponents. In 2015, after an 18-year-old college student asked Trump a question he didn’t like at a political forum, he targeted her on Twitter, and she was deluged with graphic, sexualized threats. Ahead of the 2018 midterms, a man named Cesar Sayoc sent homemade pipe bombs to Trump critics; he’s been sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Yet Raffensperger voted for Trump. On Thursday, he told CNN that he supports the president still. The fact that Trump has openly sought to undermine the 2020 election, or that he delights in siccing his followers on his perceived enemies, was not a deal-breaker for Raffensperger. If he is now incensed, it’s because he and his colleagues have become Trump’s targets.

Since Trump’s defeat, the MAGA revolution has begun devouring its own. As it does, some conservatives are discovering the downsides of having a president who spreads malicious conspiracy theories, subverts faith in democracy and turns the denial of reality into a loyalty test.

Historically the American left, more than the right, was known for circular firing squads and excommunications. By turning the Republican Party into a cult of personality, Trump changed that. As the archconservative Jeff Sessions learned years ago, even a lifetime of ideological service is no defense when you’ve displeased Dear Leader.

People and institutions that get involved with Trump often end up diminished or disgraced. Since the election, this is happening faster than ever. The president is reportedly thinking of firing Attorney General Bill Barr because, for all Barr’s obsequious toadying, he has declined to repeat Trump’s fantasies about widespread electoral cheating. Much of the MAGA-verse has turned on Fox News, because its news programs aren’t pretending that Trump won.

Both Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia and Gov. Doug Ducey of Arizona have been slavishly faithful to Trump, but stopped short of breaking the law by refusing to certify the vote in their states. For that, they’ve been at least temporarily cast out of Trump’s movement.

At a berserk Georgia rally on Wednesday, the pro-Trump lawyer Lin Wood led the crowd in a “lock him up” chant against Kemp.

In concert with the recently ousted Trump lawyer Sidney Powell, Wood called on Georgians to boycott the Jan. 5 Senate election runoff unless state officials do more to help Trump cling to power. Speaking of Georgia’s senators, Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, Wood said: “They have not earned your vote. Don’t you give it to them. Why would you go back and vote in another rigged election, for God’s sake!”

[W]hat disconcerts these Republicans isn’t, by and large, that Trumpist lawyers are spewing demented misinformation. It’s that this misinformation might, for once, work against Republican power.

“At best, Wood-Powell are distracting from the G.O.P. message in the races, and at worst, they are convincing persuadable Georgians that it is the Republican Party that needs to be checked, not Joe Biden,” wrote Rich Lowry in Politico. At worst! Republicans would almost certainly be fine with Wood and Powell eroding confidence in American democracy if it didn’t threaten members of their party.

“The Republican establishment, and also the conservative establishment, has always made this bet that it could open Pandora’s box and close it on command,” Rick Perlstein, a historian of American conservatism, told me. They could activate tribalism to achieve power, while maintaining a modicum of respectability. They could create an alternative reality but keep people enclosed within it. But with Trump “having pried Pandora’s box open, that becomes impossible,” Perlstein said.

Republicans helped Trump unleash countless civic evils. They shouldn’t be surprised when those evils don’t spare them.

I for one hope the GOP suffers defeat in Georgia and that the party's internal civil war continues to weaken the party. Cynically motivated bad actions deserve severse consequences.

Friday Morning Male Beauty


The Supreme Court Is Colliding With a Less-Religious America

Thanks in no small part to the hypocrisy and dishonesty of "conservative" and evangelical Christians, religion is becoming less and less appealing to Americans, especially younger Americans. Indeed, the so-called "Nones" - those who have walked away from organized religion entirely - are soaring in number, yet for the right wing ideologues on the U.S. Supreme Court it's still the 1950's.   I suspect that even among a majority of Catholics - I was raised Catholic - Justice Barrett (the linking of the two words is an insult to past justices on the Court) is viewed as a nutcase.  Over the coming years, these justices will increasingly run into a brick wall of Americans who are done with religion and have no patience with the demands of Christofascists for special rights that grant them dispensation from the civil laws binding the rest of society.  The danger for the Court is that eventually it may lose what legitimacy it still has left in the eyes of the majority of citizens. Chief Justice Roberts has best wake up to this danger quickly.  A piece in The Atlantic looks at the coming conflict.  Here are excerpts:

The Supreme Court’s decision last week overturning New York State’s limits on religious gatherings during the COVID-19 outbreak previewed what will likely become one of the coming decade’s defining collisions between law and demography.

The ruling continued the conservative majority’s sustained drive to provide religious organizations more leeway to claim exemptions from civil laws on the grounds of protecting “religious liberty.” These cases have become a top priority for conservative religious groups, usually led by white Christians and sometimes joined by other religiously traditional denominations. In this case, Orthodox Jewish synagogues allied with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn to oppose New York’s restrictions on religious services.

But this legal offensive to elevate “religious liberty” over other civic goals is coming even as the share of Americans who ascribe to no religious faith is steadily rising, and as white Christians have fallen to a minority share of the population.

That contrast increases the likelihood of a GOP-appointed Court majority sympathetic to the most conservative religious denominations colliding with the priorities of a society growing both more secular and more religiously diverse, especially among younger generations.

[C]entrist and liberal critics see the ingredients for a political explosion as the Court backs religious-liberty exemptions to laws on employee rights, health care, education, and equal treatment for the LGBTQ community.

“What we are seeing today is this effort to turn religious freedom into religious privilege,” Rachel Laser, the president and CEO of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, told me. Religious institutions and individuals are being given “the right to wield religious freedom as a sword to harm others, and frankly to dial back social progress in light of our changing demographics and progress toward greater equality.”

Indeed, the succession of recent religious-liberty rulings by the conservative Court majority may represent another manifestation of the fear of cultural and religious displacement that helped Donald Trump amass huge margins among white Christian voters in both of his campaigns. “We are dealing with a majority-conservative Court that suffers from the same Christian-fragility disease as we are seeing in Trump’s base—as though Christianity is what’s under attack when others are asking for equal treatment,” Laser said.

In all these ways, “religious liberty” seems certain to become an even more crucial battlefield as the political cold war grinds on between a Republican coalition that mostly reflects what America has been and a Democratic coalition centered on what it is becoming.

In oral arguments on a case heard early last month, the Court’s conservative majority signaled that it is highly likely to rule that the city of Philadelphia cannot deny contracts to a Catholic social-service agency that refuses to certify same-sex or unmarried couples as prospective foster parents.

Ira Lupu, a George Washington University Law School professor who studies religion and the law, notes that the Supreme Court has great leeway in choosing which cases to accept—and that this Court majority has chosen to accept very specific ones. . . . The pace of these cases has increased precisely as social and demographic changes have reduced white Christians to a minority and created the most pluralistic religious landscape in American history.

White Americans who identified as Christians made up a majority of the nation’s population for most of its history—about two-thirds of the adult population as recently as the late 1990s. But sometime between 2010 and 2012, white Christians, for the first time, fell below majority status, according to the National Opinion Research Center’s annual General Social Survey. Their ranks have continued to shrink since: The latest data from the Pew Research Center puts white Christians at just above 40 percent of the population, with nonwhite Christians accounting for another 25 percent, people who practice a non-Christian faith representing a little less than 10 percent, and Americans who don’t identify with any religious tradition rising to 25 percent (up from 17 percent only a decade ago).

Given younger generations’ religious preferences, the unmistakable trend line is that Christians—particularly white Christians—will continue to shrink as a share of society, while the share of Americans who don’t ascribe to any religious faith will grow.

Robert P. Jones, PRRI’s founder and CEO and the author of several books on the changing status of white Christians in America, sees a firm link between the ongoing demographic decline and the rising sense among white Christians that they face inequities . . . . “I do think the sense that something is sunsetting, something is ending … has set off the kind of feeling of vulnerability, feeling of persecution, feeling of grief, all these things. Trump didn’t create them, but he has stoked those worries and concerns.”

Most troubling for progressive legal activists is evidence that those sentiments are seeping from the political arena into the arguments of the Supreme Court’s conservative majority.

Gorsuch’s language in the New York case echoed an unusually antagonistic recent speech from Justice Samuel Alito to the conservative Federalist Society. In that address, Alito also portrayed religious believers as under siege from an increasingly secular society. “Religious liberty,” Alito insisted, “is fast becoming a disfavored right.” Brett Kavanaugh, another Trump appointee, expressed similar deference to religious-liberty arguments at his confirmation hearings. Jenny Pizer, senior counsel for Lambda Legal, which focuses on cases involving gay rights, spoke for many critics when she told me the justices’ rhetoric was tinged with “a white-Christian religious-victim narrative that we’ve been hearing amplified for one decade, two decades now.”

In PRRI polling, almost exactly two-thirds of Republicans identify as white Christians, a level last reached in American society overall in the late 1990s; Democrats, by contrast, divide about in thirds between white Christians, nonwhite Christians, and nonreligious or non-Christian people. Similarly, the network election exit polls this year found that while white Christians still provided fully two-thirds of Trump’s votes, Joe Biden garnered a bigger bloc of support from nonreligious and non-Christian Americans (about 40 percent of his voters) than from either white or nonwhite Christians.

When House Democrats passed their sweeping 2019 Equality Act, which would ban discrimination because of sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing, and other arenas, they specifically barred the use of RFRA as a defense against its requirements. During the campaign, Biden pledged to roll back the use of religious defenses against equal treatment for LGBTQ Americans, and Senator Kamala Harris, now the vice president-elect, has introduced legislation to more comprehensively curb the law’s impact.

Simultaneously, the movement from the Supreme Court’s Republican appointees is in exactly the opposite direction—toward widening religious protections and exemptions in decisions that rely on the RFRA law or the First Amendment’s protection of religion, or both.

Laser says it’s impossible to predict how far the Court may take its religious-liberty drive, given that at least some of the justices appear influenced by the same anxiety about the eroding social position of Christians, especially white Christians, that helped power Trump’s political movement.

“How is the Court going to feel about being so outnumbered by the trend in the country?” Laser asked. “The reaction … could well be to double down.”

"Conservative" religion remains a blight on humankind and does nothing but breed division and hatred of others. It needs to be eradicated, in my view.

Thursday, December 03, 2020

More Thursday Male Beauty


Trump Likely Effort to Pardon his Children and Giuliani May Fail

Word has it that Ivanka Trump freaked out over being deposed in respect to the possible misuse of inauguration funds.   With luck, that will give her and her toxic siblings just a tiny taste of what may come once their amoral father has been forced to exit the White House and the New York State Attorney General and the Manhattan District Attorney focus their sights on Trump and his grifting children.  While Trump's desperation over losing the 2020 election likely focuses on his own legal exposure since his primary focus is always himself, odds are he may try to pardon his children for their misdeeds and possible criminal actions.  That effort faces obstacles, not the least of which is that any such pardons will only give reprieve from federal offenses, not the state and local offences New York State and New York City are targeting.  In addition, a blanket pardon attempt might fail as laid out in an op-ed by a law professor in the Washington Post.  Here are excerpts:

President Trump’s holiday gift list, news reports suggest, may include broad pardons for his three oldest children and his personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, even before they have been charged with any crimes. But if Trump believes such pardons would protect the recipients from federal prosecution, he should think again. In addition to violating core democratic ideals, such a move might well prove beyond his constitutional authority.

Pardons come in many varieties, but the vast majority are issued to individual offenders for specific charges or convictions. Blanket pardons for individuals — such as Gerald Ford’s pardon of Richard Nixon for “all offenses against the United States” — are exceptionally rare. Over the past half-century there is only one other example: George H.W. Bush’s pardon of officials caught up in the Iran-contra affair “for all offenses” within the jurisdiction of the independent counsel.

Both of these pardons were heavily criticized at the time, and with good reason. A blanket pardon inevitably hides from public scrutiny what is being immunized, undermining accountability. It offers the opportunity for unscrupulous presidents to protect friends and accomplices from the reach of the law. . . . . But the risks of a blanket pardon outweigh the benefits.

Trump, of course, has never been one to concern himself with these niceties. And that raises the question: While blanket pardons are unseemly, are they also unlawful exercises of the president’s pardon power? The pardons for Nixon and the Iran-contra defendants don’t offer an answer, since neither was challenged in court.

Most observers assume that the president is free to issue blanket pardons, believing the president’s power in this area is effectively unlimited beyond the few constraints explicitly mentioned in the Constitution (no pardons in cases of impeachment, or for state crimes). My scholarship suggests that interpretation is incorrect.

In fact, based on the Framers’ original understanding of the pardon authority, the better reading is that, while the pardon power grants the president expansive authority, that power is not unlimited. Most importantly, the Framers would have understood that pardons must be issued for specific crimes. They were not intended to be broad grants of immunity, get-out-of-jail-free cards bestowed by presidential grace.

The Supreme Court has repeatedly affirmed that the scope of the pardon clause should be interpreted in light of its meaning at the time of the founding. This originalist methodology means looking to 18th-century English law. As the court said in an 1855 case, “when the words to grant pardons were used in the constitution, they conveyed to the mind the authority as exercised by the English crown, or by its representatives in the colonies.

That meaning included what might be called a “specificity requirement” — a pardon would be deemed valid only if it identified the specific offenses to which it applied. As William Blackstone, the leading authority on English law at the time, declared: “A pardon of all felonies will not pardon a conviction.” Instead, the offense “must be particularly mentioned.” Blanket pardons, in other words, were invalid.

Since English law informs our own understanding of the pardon power, there is a strong argument that the specificity requirement is part of our Constitution and serves as a constraint on the president’s authority. That would not prevent the president from issuing pardons to anyone for any reason, but it does require that each pardoned crime be listed.

In the case of his family and personal lawyer, such a list might prove embarrassing to the president — and edifying to the public. In this way, specificity raises the political costs of issuing such pardons. It also reduces the pardon’s effectiveness. Should a relevant offense be left off the list, the pardon’s recipient would be vulnerable to prosecution.

The Supreme Court has never ruled on the specificity requirement, and the question of the validity of any blanket pardon by Trump would come up only if a federal prosecutor seeks to indict a pardon recipient who raises the pardon as a barrier to prosecution.

But if the issue were to arise, there is a significant possibility that a court, dominated by self-identified originalists, would invalidate the use of blanket pardons. This possibility should make Trump pause before offering such pardons to friends and family. But it also leaves him in a bind. Should he attempt to specify each and every federal crime committed by his children or lawyer? Or is that a gift too costly even for Trump to consider?

Thursday Morning Male Beauty


Biden/Harris: A Return to Decency

Besides finding most of the Trump/Pence regime's policies abhorrent, one of the reasons I celebrate the Biden/Harris win is that it will remove a totally immoral individual from the White House (and a vice president only too willing to sell his soul in a quest for power).  Also, I suspect history will see the soon ending Trump/Pence regime as the most corrupt in American history - a regime filled with grifters and opportunist concerned only with lining their own pockets or pushing extreme ideologies harmful to the bulk of the citizenry.  The Biden/Harris administration will face huge burdens, many made far worse due to the incompetence and corruption of the Trump regime, particularly the Covid-19 pandemic which continues to explode.  However, come what may, gross immorality will be flushed from the White House and decency will again prevail and hopefully the wreckage of the Trump regime can begin to be undone. A column in the New York Times looks at this welcomed transition.  Here are highlights:

President Trump is not yet gone, but he’s muted, marginalized and moribund. American democracy was challenged by Mr. Trump at its very heart — respect for truth — and resisted. Joe Biden will take office in January as the 46th president of the United States. Decency will return to the White House, a fundamental moral shift. Dictators the world over will no longer have carte blanche to do their worst unchallenged.

Mr. Biden, with 306 Electoral College votes — the same number that Mr. Trump won in 2016 when he called his victory a “massive landslide” — won with a little room to spare. All the protest and bluster from Mr. Trump cannot undo the facts.

An American authoritarian lurch posed a real danger. Europe already felt isolated in its defense of the rule of law and human rights. That insidious, wheedling, plaintive voice from the Oval Office, oozing self-obsession, got inside everyone’s heads. Mr. Trump’s political genius lay in his feel for the dark side of human nature and his ferocious, social media-propelled energy in appealing to it. The volume has dropped as the nightmare recedes. Suddenly there is mental space to think again.

There is plenty to think about. The post-1945 American-led world order is gone; the Biden presidency will not revive it. With the United States AWOL and the United Nations Security Council ineffectual, the pandemic revealed a leaderless world. The barriers the virus has erected will not be quickly dismantled. Nor will the economy based on remote work disappear, accompanied by the potentially devastating psychological impact of loneliness. Western societies face insistent challenges to their democratic model from a rising China, with its repressive surveillance state, and the Russia of President Vladimir V. Putin . . .

Mass migration, the disruptions of technology, virus-linked economic hardship and the hollowing-out of the middle class create conditions in which nationalism and the scapegoating it depends on thrive. These conditions will continue to spur illiberal movements of the kind Mr. Trump, Mr. Putin and Viktor Orban, the Hungarian prime minister, have led.

The core challenge to liberal democracies is to fashion a response that must involve broader economic and educational opportunities, as well as fiscal equity, as starting points. Impunity for the rich and widening inequality have broken “society,” understood as a community with certain shared interests.

In the United States, the cultural chasm between urban elites and the heartland remains stark. Mr. Trump’s almost 74 million votes reflected more than “America first” chest-thumping. . . . Even language itself has broken down between liberals and the other America that thinks differently. Mr. Trump, an artful impostor, saw the political space this opened up for him. His nostalgia is for some unidentified moment of American greatness, when white male property owners ruled alone, women stayed home and the nation’s global dominance was unchallenged. He thrived on the unease and sense of humiliation that rapid demographic change and a shifting economic landscape brought. He is unlikely to go away; and if he does, perhaps to a prison cell, Trumpism will find some other exponent.

Mr. Biden will get certain things done quickly: rejoin the Paris Agreement on climate change; reassert the importance of American values, including the defense of democracy and human rights; rebuild shaken ties with the European Union and other allies across the world; restore the place of truth so that America’s word is worth something again; and reject the zero-sum approach of Mr. Trump which failed to grasp the mutual benefits of open trade and a rules-based global order.

In the Middle East, Mr. Biden will steer away from Mr. Trump’s uncritical support of Israel toward a more balanced American approach to the conflict with the Palestinians and seek ways to revive the Iran nuclear accord. He will restore process to American policy. In fact, he will reinstate policy, in the place of gut and urges, Mr. Trump’s modus operandi, not least when it came to the chaotic response to the pandemic.

[T]he quest for the status quo ante cannot be the new president’s compass. . . . It’s time for a “New Deal” between Europe and the United States that acknowledges European emancipation and shifting American priorities, while cementing an alliance of values and often overlapping interests.

Europe’s evolution has been evident in relations with China, which used to be purely commercial. Now, the expansionist China of President Xi Jinping is seen as a systemic rival. . . . . One of the major challenges for the West as the Biden administration takes office will be finding the sweet spot that confronts Mr. Xi’s China with firmness while avoiding outright confrontation.

China is an explicit threat to the Western liberal model. This threat must be recognized and resisted. Chinese technology, for example, is not neutral. It channels information to Beijing. But China is also an integral part of the global economy. An angry “China first” swing away from engagement would benefit nobody. Mr. Trump’s gratuitous and incoherent belligerence has needlessly complicated the difficult relationship between the world’s great power and the power that would replace it.

The American election was a turning point. It illustrated once again that those who write off democracy do so at their peril. Democracies are slow to react, often cumbersome, inherently messy. They are also stubborn and, when provoked, resolute. They know that the diktat of the autocrat is irreconcilable with the quest for human dignity and freedom. They can summon themselves to say to a bully, “You’re fired!” — words Mr. Trump still cannot bear to hear. The result is the rebirth of hope, however tenuous, for the 21st century.

Vaccines may be coming. A decent American president certainly is.

Wednesday, December 02, 2020

More Wednesday Male Beauty


The Conspiracy Theory That Could Hand Joe Biden the Senate

I have long viewed ardent Trump supporters as either mentally disturbed and/or morally lacking.  In the wake of Trump's electoral lose in the 2020 presidential election, however, the batshit craziness of his most loyal cultists has gone off the charts with some of the deplorables asking Trump to declare martial law and seize the government, overthrowing America's democracy to the rampant dissemination of insane  conspiracy theories that anyone remotely mental stable would find absurd.  The good news is that this insanity and the conspiracy theories spreading like wild fire among the Trump base may haunt the GOP as it struggles to hold two U.S. Senate seats in Georgia.  A piece in Politico looks at how this craziness could - and hopefully will - hand victory to the two Democrat candidates.  Here are article excerpts:

There is no evidence that Lin Wood and Sidney Powell are secretly working for the Democratic National Committee, but no one has definitively disproved it, either.

That’s the kind of the conspiratorial reasoning that the Wood-Powell duo, with their deep commitment to wild and unfalsifiable charges, might apply to themselves.

The two Trump-allied lawyers have made themselves into wrecking balls against the Republican Party of Georgia whose top elected officials, they allege, are involved in the most dastardly and far-reaching conspiracy in American history.

This might only be a bizarre footnote to the 2020 election, if their charges weren’t being amplified by the president of the United States and didn’t come at a time when the GOP needs all of its voters to turn out in the two January runoff elections in Georgia that will determine control of the Senate.

According to Wood-Powell, Dominion voting machines were used to rob President Donald Trump of his rightful landslide in Georgia, with Governor Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, both Republicans, in on the fix, aided and abetted by foreign enemies of the United States.

The rot runs so deep that, per the duo, Republicans should boycott the runoffs. Or, as Wood put it at their joint Wednesday rally in Georgia that was even more bonkers than Rudy Giuliani’s news conference at the Republican National Committee, the governor should resign and go to jail.

If this turmoil contributes to a Republican debacle, it would be the dumbest and most unnecessary loss since Steve Bannon decided in the 2017 Alabama Senate special election that it’d be a brilliant idea to run Roy Moore, the one Republican noxious and scandal-plagued enough to lose to a Democrat.

As Sean Trende of RealClearPolitics points out, there’s no guarantee that Georgia snaps back in January to its old Republican identity.

Ideally, the race would be about President-elect Biden and stopping his agenda. Instead, Trump and his fraud claims have become a wedge issue, making it harder for Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler to bridge the gap between Trump’s base and suburban voters.

When Perdue and Loeffler moved in unison a couple of weeks ago to call on Raffensperger to resign, it was a transparently cynical attempt to signal to Trump voters that they take their concerns seriously, without outright endorsing any wild allegations that might repel fence-sitting suburbanites.

Trump is clearly of two minds. He can’t admit that he lost Georgia, and will endorse any lunatic theory to explain away his defeat. At the same time, he knows his political legacy and future are caught up in the outcome of the Senate races.

So, he viciously attacks the top Republicans in the state at the same time he promotes Perdue and Loeffler. 

When Wood and Powell were asked at their Wednesday rally about the hand recount that should have put to bed the Dominion theory, Powell denied there was a full hand recount and said, regardless, Georgia’s election system is built to skew recounts, too.

One can only conclude that if Georgia allowed Wood and Powell to personally choose a team of forensic scientists to inspect all the ballots in a hermetically sealed examination room guarded by Navy SEALs, they’d still come up with a reason why the count had been subverted if it showed Biden ahead.

Perhaps Republican voters ignore all of this come January. But there’s a reason parties seek unity before important elections. At best, Wood-Powell are distracting from the GOP message in the races, and at worst, they are convincing persuadable Georgians that it is the Republican Party that needs to be checked, not Joe Biden.

Who needs actual agents of the DNC if this is what the most fervent allies of Donald Trump are saying?

Let's hope the GOP batshit craziness continues or even increases!

Wednesday Morning Male Beauty


William Barr Breaks with Trump's Election Lies

In general I have little positive to say about U.S. Attorney General William Barr who has done severe damage to the Department of Justice and the rule of law.  Indeed, Barr can't leave that office soon enough in my view.  That said, now even Barr can no longer pretend the 2020 presidential election was stolen from the narcissistic liar currently occupying the White Hose.  As Barr noted yesterday, there is simply no evidence of any type of fraud or irregularities that support Trump's - and Republicans still debasing and prostituting themselves to him - claims that Joe Biden did not win the election fairly and by a huge margin in terms of the popular vote.  Would that the rest of the  Republican elected officials, especially those in Congress, would have the spine and balls to callout Trump's lies.  A piece at CNN looks at Barr's rejection of Trumps lies/fantasy which not surprisingly has drawn attacks from Trump and the pathetic political whores like Rudy Giuliani.  Here are highlights: 

Attorney General William Barr just dealt the most credible blow to Donald Trump's lies about a stolen election, precisely because he previously often came across more as the President's personal lawyer than a neutral arbiter of justice.

Trump has suffered repeated and embarrassing defeats in court. Republican governors and secretaries of state have certified results that show he lost on November 3. And he has so far failed to stage an Electoral College coup. 

But Barr's admission Tuesday that his Justice Department has looked for significant voter fraud but has found none that would change the result is sure to be treated as a betrayal by a President who demands sworn fealty from subordinates. 

Barr's comments to the Associated Press on the election -- which stated what every objective observer knows to be true -- were such a big deal because they reflect the extent to which Trump and his aides have shattered Washington's democratic guardrails.

By contradicting Trump's fever dream over vote fraud, Barr, in the end, balked at being the President's modern version of his firebrand New York attorney Roy Cohn. 

His decision represented a final failure of Trump's often successful attempt to weaponize the Justice Department as a personal and potent political weapon. Try as he might, Trump has never found a fixer equal to his former New York retainer Cohn, the notorious mafia lawyer and McCarthy-era aide for whom loyalty to his clients meant a willingness to break any rule. 

Barr's political heresy came on a day when it also became clear that the President's exit from the White House will be accompanied by the same clouds of scandal, constitutional chicanery and politicized legal gambits that shaped the most disruptive presidency of modern times. 

The risks inherent in Trump's continued denial of reality and claims that the election was corrupt -- which are eagerly embraced by his followers -- are becoming increasingly clear in the strain imposed on GOP election officials. 

Gabriel Sterling, the voting systems implementation manager at the Georgia secretary of state's office, issued an emotional appeal on Tuesday for the President to denounce threats faced by election officials. 

"It's all gone too far," said Sterling, a Republican.  "Someone's going to get hurt, someone's going to get shot, someone's going to get killed, and it's not right."

But at a White House Christmas Party on Tuesday night, that featured little social distancing on a day more than 2,400 Americans died of Covid-19, Trump again claimed falsely that he had won the election and mused about "another four years" in office, either now, or after the 2024 election.

Sadly, America will not be fully free of the cancer that Trump represents as long as Trump is breathing.

Tuesday, December 01, 2020

More Tuesday Male Beauty


25 Bar Presidents: Lawyers Should Not be Complicit in Trump’s Lies

The Biden/Harris administration will have its work cut out for it in dealing with the surging Covid-19 pandemic not to mention undoing as much of the harm inflicted on the nation by the Trump regime, harm that ranges from destroying ties with allies to rescinding safety regulations that protect the health of Americans and protect  clean air and clean water. Meanwhile, the legal profession and specifically state bar organizations will need to face the task of disciplinary actions - and hopefully disbarment - of lawyers who tossed their ethical duties and responsibilities as officers of the court into the toilet and lied and sought to perpetrate frauds on numerous courts as they promoted Donald Trump's unfounded lies about election fraud and other efforts to undermine the rule of law and democracy itself. Attorneys who need to face disciplinary action range from Rudy Giuliani, Joe diGenova and  Sidney Powell to many others who filed frivolous and knowingly false law suits and continued to perpetrate lies in court filings.  An op-ed in the Washington Post by 25 past presidents of the District of Columbia bar condemn such attorneys.  Here are excerpts:

The period since the election has seen a destructive and unwarranted series of abusive lawsuits filed by some members of the American legal profession. While lawyers must represent their clients with determination and zeal, no lawyer may seek, on behalf of any client, to subvert democratic institutions or burden the courts with claims that the lawyer knows are frivolous. As former presidents and a former CEO of the District of Columbia Bar, which has more than 100,000 members from every state, we think that it is important to explain that it did not have to be this way, and it should not have been.

The law protects our democratic institutions and embodies our commitment to a civil society. It is through lawyers in their dual role as “officers of the court” and as advocates for specific clients that the law achieves these goals. But as one of the country’s most celebrated lawyers, Elihu Root, supposedly said a century ago: “About half the practice of a decent lawyer consists in telling would-be clients that they are damned fools and should stop.”

Since the election, instead of telling their client to stop, some lawyers — too many — have leveled attacks on the integrity of the electoral process, basing their assertions on unfounded allegations of “voter fraud” or “ballot tampering.” Lawyers for President Trump have filed at least three dozen lawsuits in various states, charging grave abuses of the electoral process. Their goal has been to scuttle the process for counting and certifying the vote, thereby expunging millions of votes.

[I]n the absence of any meaningful evidence, we must condemn the abuse of the judicial system to subvert the democratic process.

Fortunately, federal and state judges, regardless of prior political affiliation, have quickly and courageously rebuffed these groundless lawsuits. But it is deeply troubling that so many lawyers and law firms have been willing to sign their names to these filings, letting themselves be used in this corrosive undermining of confidence in the democratic process. Members of the bar have an obligation to refrain from undertaking a matter for a client when the lawyer knows that the purpose of the lawsuit is purely political and lacks concrete factual support or plausible legal merit.

Sadly, the past few weeks have demonstrated serious disregard for these professional duties of lawyer-citizens. Perhaps most notorious was the lawsuit filed in Pennsylvania that tried to salvage the failing litigation campaign of the incumbent president by assembling a grab-bag of unsupported assertions about the integrity of the vote count.

In ruling against Trump on Friday, the federal appeals court — in an opinion written by a Trump appointee and joined by two other Republican-nominated judges — was unsparing in its assessment of the weakness of the claim.

It is no excuse that the “client” — the unsuccessful presidential candidate’s reelection committee or local political allies — wanted to assert these contentions. A lawyer may not advance such contentions in court without having genuine factual grounds for them. Politicians may make outlandish claims or invent “alternative facts.” But lawyers may not ethically repeat in a lawsuit an assertion of fraud, unless they have first assured themselves that there is a sound factual basis for such a serious charge.

Nor is it permissible to start a lawsuit propounding the client’s thesis, simply hoping that some support for the claim may turn up. The ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct direct lawyers to refrain from bringing a proceeding “unless there is a basis in law or fact for doing so that is not frivolous.”

Most basically, the binding rules of professional behavior declare that it is “professional misconduct” to “engage in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation” or to “engage in conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice.” The array of lawsuits filed in efforts to undermine the 2020 presidential election presented a veritable checklist of disregard for these professional standards.

The fact that these lawsuits were filed on behalf of the incumbent president, not private clients in a commercial dispute, makes matters even worse. Here, lawyers have willingly agreed to become the instruments of a wholesale attack on the integrity of the democratic process, which is the framework for binding together a peaceful, civil society under law. The harmful consequences of this campaign will survive long after the courts formally have dismissed the lawsuits.

Our country deserved better from members of the bar.

Again, investigations and hopefully disbarment proceedings need to be launched against Trump's attorneys who have engaged in professional misconduct.

Tuesday Morning Male Beauty


Stephen Miller's Race to Harm Immigrants

The Trump/Pence regime has included an over abundance of truly horrible, despicable individuals but, other than Trump himself, the most loathsome and evil is white supremacist Stephen Miller.  Miller has been the architect of the Trump regime's war on immigrants, both legal and illegal, and is reported to have  "enjoyed “ at the border of families being separated."  Miller would have fit right in with the Nazi monsters who engineered the "Final Solution" and Holocaust.  Even Miller's family members - all descendants of Jews who fled Europe - have denounced him.  Now, with the hideous Trump regime in its waning days, Miller is pushing for more assaults on immigrants and immigration as his part shot of evil intensions.  A piece in Vanity Fair looks at this truly evil individual (it did an earlier piece on Miller and his wife who is equally foul).  Here are highlights:

When he wasn’t making the case, via Twitter, that he should be put under conservatorship, or speaking to Fox & Friends for hours on end, Donald Trump spent much of the last four years enacting despicable policies, many of which concerned immigration. The top hits obviously include the travel ban, family separation, and spending billions of dollars in taxpayer money on his ridiculous border wall, but also using ICE to terrorize undocumented immigrants, attempting to allow the deportation of 700,000 people who came to the U.S. as children, cutting the refugee cap to the lowest level in history, and generally demonizing anyone who wasn’t born here and making their lives as miserable as possible.

Behind these policies was World’s Biggest Bastard nominee for four years running Stephen Miller, the 35-year-old adviser who cut his teeth working for Jeff Sessions and defied his upbringing in Santa Monica to become a white supremacist. And if you thought he was going to ease up the immigrant-bashing policies on his way out the door, you sadly underestimated the depths to which Miller clearly hates himself, a self-loathing that he takes out on anyone with less power than him or who doesn’t have to spray on their hair.

Instead, Miller is reportedly doing everything he can to limit immigration, legal and otherwise, on his way out the door. Per Politico:

Since Election Day, the president’s staffers have pushed through changes that make it easier to deny visas to immigrants, lengthened the citizenship test, and appointed new members to an immigration policy board.... The focus is on putting a bind on President-elect Joe Biden, making it harder for him to reverse these politically fraught issues, according to half a dozen people familiar with the changes.... The administration’s push on immigration is attributed to Stephen Miller, the senior aide who has largely guided the president’s policies on the issue for four years, according to people on both sides of the debate.

Additionally, despite the administration’s claims that it’s only illegal immigration it has a problem with, it’s trying to make it harder for people to obtain H-1B visas, which go to highly skilled workers. The move would not only shrink the types of jobs foreign workers can apply for, but also require companies to pay foreign workers more, changes the administration itself says would decrease the number of H-1B applicants by one third.

“What they’re doing through the transition is working their way down their list of items to minimize immigration to the U.S.,” Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, told Politico. “The Trump administration has been widely effective in terms of grinding our immigration system to a halt.”

In a sign of just how far some people want the administration to go in its last few weeks in power, aides reportedly “urged” the president to sign an executive order that would end birthright citizenship, which, as Politico notes, “is enshrined in the Constitution.” The idea was said to be recently dismissed, presumably much to the chagrin of Miller, a uniquely evil nonhuman who, as my colleague Gabriel Sherman reported in 2018, enjoyed “ at the border” of families being separated.

[H]ere’s an NBC News report from August on the administration’s family-separation policy, which Miller was the architect of:

Miller saw the separation of families not as an unfortunate byproduct but as a tool to deter more immigration. According to three former officials, he had devised plans that would have separated even more children. Miller, with the support of Sessions, advocated for separating all immigrant families, even those going through civil court proceedings, the former officials said.

While zero tolerance ultimately separated nearly 3,000 children from their parents, what Miller proposed would have separated 25,000 more, including those who legally presented themselves at ports of entry seeking asylum, according to Customs and Border Protection data from May and June 2018.

Evil does exist in the world and a undue portion of it found a home in the Trump/Pence regime. 

Monday, November 30, 2020

More Monday Male Beauty


Some Republican Voters in Georgia are Turning on the GOP

When the leadership of the Republican Party decided to embrace Donald Trump - a malignant narcissist who cares only about himself - and his ignorance embracing, cult-like base, they should have realized they were making a deal with the devil. Now, Trump has gone down to election defeat and is trashing anything and everything, including America's democratic institutions as his school yard bully ego cannot accept that a majority of Americans despise him and want him out of office.  A much deserved payback to those in the GOP who knew better yet prostituted themselves to Trump would be to have the GOP lose both Senate runoff elections in Georgia on January 5, 2021, because of Trump's lies and the gullibility of Trump cultist who may boycott the runoff election believing it is "rigged" per Der Trumpenfuhrer's lies.   If this were to happen, it would be divine justice of sorts and seeing "Moscow Mitch" McConnell no longer the Senate majority leader would be worth breaking out a bottle of Dom Perignon.  A piece in the Washington Post looks at Republicans' dilemma.   Here are excerpts:

Part of what makes President Trump’s hold over the Republican Party so powerful is that the Republican establishment doesn’t fully understand it. And that means it is unsure about how to wield it without Trump helping.

That’s manifesting in an ugly way for the party in Georgia. As Trump tries to burn down democratic institutions on his way out of office, at least some hardcore Trump supporters in the state are turning on the GOP.

This couldn’t come at a worse time for the party. Republicans are trying to rally their loyalists to vote Jan. 5 in two Senate runoff races that will decide whether Democrats have full governing control in Washington next year or Republicans can block some of their policies.

But almost all the establishment Republican figures in Georgia or campaigning there have recently faced accusations from some voters that they’re not Trumpian enough for not wading completely into the president’s baseless claims that the election was stolen from him. Recent examples include:

·         Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, the Republican incumbents trying to hold on to their seats in the January runoff, have not yet acknowledged that Trump lost the election. But they hint at it in their campaigning, because it’s powerful to frame their candidacies as firewalls to Democratic rule. But some engaged Republican voters don’t seem to want to even think about the Senate races until they find a way to win the election for Trump.

·         In some Trump-supporting circles on social media, there is talk of boycotting the election. Lin Wood is a Trump ally in Atlanta who recently tweeted to his hundreds of thousands of followers: “If not fixed, I will NOT vote in GA runoff.”

·         Politico reports that #CrookedPerdue and #CrookedKelly are popping up on social media, accusing the two senators of being “liberal DemoRats.” That’s despite the fact that Perdue and Kelly stuck their necks out politically to try to demonstrate how concerned they were with election fraud.

·         Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel was campaigning in Georgia this weekend when she encountered some GOP voters who don’t see the point in voting if the election is supposedly rigged.

·         [Trump] The president has demonized two of the most prominent Georgia Republicans in the state, Raffensperger and Gov. Brian Kemp (R), baselessly accusing them of somehow playing a role in his losing the election. . . . . Before the 2020 elections, these were two of the most Trump-supportive politicians in Georgia, arguably in the United States.

It’s tough to gauge how much of an issue this is for Republicans. Are these just a small group of voters showing up at campaign rallies, feeling disenfranchised because Joe Biden won the state and Trump lost reelection? Or are they indicative of a more widespread sentiment of disgust with the Republican Party after Trump’s loss?

The latter is certainly worse than the former for Republicans, but both are bad. Whichever side wins these two runoff races will have turned out its base in higher numbers. November’s results revealed there are voters who supported Republicans in the Senate races and Biden for president who aren’t as amenable to Trump’s baseless conspiracy theories. But to win, Republicans are also going to need Trump voters.

Republicans are concerned enough that allies of Donald Trump Jr. are setting up a super PAC aimed at persuading [Trump] the president’s supporters in Georgia to vote, Politico reports. The president has somewhat confusingly and halfheartedly told Georgia voters they need to vote, even though he claims the state’s election system can’t be trusted.

Three days later, [Trump] he was back to falsely saying voting machines such as the ones used in Georgia miscounted votes against him.

I for one hope the Trump cultists refuse to vote on January 5th and the GOP candidates go down to defeat.  The GOP must pay a high price for what it has done to the nation over the last four years.