Saturday, February 20, 2021

Saturday Morning Male Beauty


America’s Zero-Sum Thinking on Race Is Holding the Nation Back

Sadly, in America today both politics and society are too often viewed with a zero-sum mind set: if someone gains more civil rights or prospers economically, that is automatically assumed that someone else must lose rights and/or financial security to makeup for the other party's gain.   The thinking is that the pie to be divided never grows and the fact that growing the pie larger can allow all to prosper is ignored.  A rising tide can raise all boats except in America's divisive views on race,  Further confusing the situation and increasing irrational white fears of lost power is the way in which race is currently determined for census data: any non-white ancestry, no matter how small the percentage throws one into the "non-white" or "minority" category no matters (i) one's actual physical appearance or (ii) how an individuals perceive themselves. This type of data throws all who are mixed race, one of the fastest growing categories among younger Americans into the "non-white" status and results in further inflamed paranoia among whites who rightly or wrongly see themselves sliding to minority status within the nation. A piece in the New York Times looks at the economic fallacy of the zero sum game while a paywall protected piece by Andrew Sullivan looks at a new book that looks at flaws in the assigning of race to Americans. First highlights from the Times piece:

Over a two-decade career in the white-collar think tank world, I’ve continually wondered: Why can’t we have nice things?

By “we,” I mean America at-large. As for “nice things,” I don’t picture self-driving cars, hovercraft backpacks or laundry that does itself. Instead, I mean the basic aspects of a high-functioning society: well-funded schools, reliable infrastructure, wages that keep workers out of poverty, or a comprehensive public health system equipped to handle pandemics — things that equally developed but less wealthy nations seem to have.

The anti-government stinginess of traditional conservatism, along with the fear of losing social status held by many white people, now broadly associated with Trumpism, have long been connected. Both have sapped American society’s strength for generations, causing a majority of white Americans to rally behind the draining of public resources and investments. Those very investments would provide white Americans — the largest group of the impoverished and uninsured — greater security, too: A new Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco study calculated that in 2019, the country’s output would have been $2.6 trillion greater if the gap between white men and everyone else were closed. And a 2020 report from analysts at Citigroup calculated that if America had adopted policies to close the Black-white economic gap 20 years ago, U.S. G.D.P would be an estimated $16 trillion higher.

To understand what stops us from uniting for our mutual benefit, I’ve spent the past three years traveling the country from California to Mississippi to Maine, visiting churches and worker centers and city halls, in search of on-the-ground answers.

In Montgomery, Ala., I walked the grounds of what was once a grand public pool, one of more than 2,000 such pools built in the early 20th century. However, much like the era’s government-backed suburban developments or G.I. Bill home loans, the pool was for whites only. Threatened with court action to integrate its pool in 1958, the town drained it instead, shuttering the entire parks and recreation department. Even after reopening the parks a decade later, they never rebuilt the pool. Towns from Ohio to Louisiana lashed out in similar ways.

The civil rights movement, which widened the circle of public beneficiaries and could have heralded a more moral, prosperous nation, wound up diminishing white people’s commitment to the very idea of public goods. In the late 1950s, over two-thirds of white Americans agreed with the now-radical idea that the government ought to guarantee a job for anyone who wants one and ensure a minimum standard of living for everyone in the country. White support for those ideas nose-dived from around 70 to 35 percent from 1960 to 1964, and has remained low ever since.

It’s no historical accident that this dip coincided with the 1963 March on Washington, when white Americans saw Black activists demanding the same economic guarantees, and when Democrats began to promise to extend government benefits across the color line. It’s also no accident that, to this day, no Democratic presidential candidate has won the white vote since the Democrat Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts.

Racial integration portended the end of America’s high-tax, high-investment growth strategy: Tax revenue peaked as a percentage of the economy in 1969 compared with the average O.E.C.D. country. Now, America’s per capita government spending is near the bottom among industrialized countries. Our roads, bridges and water systems get a D+ from the American Society of Civil Engineers. Unlike our peers, we don’t have high-speed rail, universal broadband, mandatory paid family leave or universal child care.

[R]acial resentment is the key uncredited actor in our economic backslide. White people who exhibit low racial resentment against Black people are 60 percentage points more likely to support increased government spending than are those with high racial resentment. At the base of this resentment is a zero-sum story: the default framework for conservative arguments, rife with references to “makers and takers,” “taxpayers and freeloaders.”

In my travels, I also realized that those seeking to repair America’s social divides can invoke this sort of zero-sum framing as well. Progressives often end up talking about race relations through a prism of competition — every advantage for whites, mirrored by a disadvantage for people of color.

In my research and writing on disparities, I learned to focus on how white people benefited from systemic racism: Their schools have more funding, they have less contact with the police, they have greater access to health care. These hallmarks of white privilege are not freedoms that racial justice activists want to take away from white people, however — they’re basic human rights and dignities that everyone should enjoy. And the right wing is eager to fill the gap when we don’t finish the sentence.

The task ahead, then, is to unwind this idea of a fixed quantity of prosperity and replace it with what I’ve come to call Solidarity Dividends: gains available to everyone when they unite across racial lines, in the form of higher wages, cleaner air and better-funded schools.

“In order for all of us to come up, it’s not a matter of me coming up and them staying down,” she said. “It’s the matter of: In order for me to come up, they have to come up too. Because honestly, as long as we’re divided, we’re conquered.”

This zero-sum mindset is so harmful to America yet too many cannot let go of it.

One thing fueling right wing white hysteria are the predictions that America is headed towards a minority-majority condition.  Yet, as Sullivan's piece lays out, but for a "single drop" approach to racial classification, the whole picture morphs into something quite different and which might well be less terrifying to racists and white supremacists who cling to a zero-sum mindset.  Here are excerpts:

If there’s one core assumption shared by the two tribes of our culture, it is that America will soon be a “majority-minority” nation. Among today’s seniors, “whites” still dominate; but among children, “non-whites” are now a very clear majority. The debate about when exactly America will become a majority-minority country moves around a bit in the projections, but it’s somewhere near the middle of this century. And this underlying reality has created a kind of background noise to our debates about race and culture, immigration and populism.

[I]t’s the simple, binary nature of this challenge that shapes our political divide: a “white” vs “non-white” America, “white people” vs “people of color”, “racists” vs “anti-racists”, “oppressors vs “oppressed”. It effectively makes America’s racial and cultural future zero-sum, in which we are currently neatly divided into two camps, and cannot all be winners. This Manichean vision shapes the woke left and the reactionary right, and it marches toward us.

Few have seriously debated or questioned this demographic orthodoxy (I include myself in this myopia). And yet it seems fundamental to our political present. In fact, I don’t think you can explain the persistence of Trump and Trumpism at all without understanding fears of a “non-white” future. And it’s hard to understand Democratic political strategy without appreciating their assumption that non-white immigrants will always be more reliable voters for them than white natives.

But what if this entire scenario is just empirically wrong? . . . Richard Alba, Professor of Sociology at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. His new book, “The Great Demographic Illusion,” examines and, I have to say, largely detonates, the majority-minority myth. He does this simply by pointing out how the Census Bureau actually defines “non-white”.

In a weird and creepy echo of the old “one-drop rule,” you are officially counted as “non-white” by the Census if your demographic background has any non-white component to it. So the great majority of Americans whose race is in any way ambiguous or mixed are counted as “non-white” even if they don’t identify as such.

What Alba examines is how these mixed-race populations understand themselves and behave within American society, and his conclusion is that our current situation resembles our assimilationist, melting point past much more than we currently believe. “In some fundamental ways,” Alba argues, “such as educational attainment, social affiliations, and marriage tendencies, the members of mixed groups appear closer to the white side of their background than to the minority side.”

This is particularly true with respect to the offspring of Latino-Anglo and Asian-Anglo couples, who are increasingly assimilated into the new bi-racial and multiracial mainstream. The only exception to this rule, alas, are black-white mixed children — who are more likely to be in single-parent homes, to be poorer and to have bad experiences with law enforcement, and thereby tend to identify with the non-white part of their identity. But even here, Alba notes, white-black children “not infrequently marry whites.” And the core difference between these kids and others is as much about class and family structure as it is about racism.

What Alba argues is that the “mainstream” to which many mixed-race Americans aspire is no longer best understood as a form of 1950s-style “whiteness” than as an inter-connected, 21st Century multicultural and multiracial kaleidoscope, in which many, especially the younger generation, feel increasingly at home. He wants to contrast the old “idea of assimilation as whitening” with “the ongoing mainstream diversification.” And if you do that, and complicate the white-non-white binary, the racial picture of America becomes much less fraught.

[W]hat of “Hispanic whites” — those whose lineage may come from South or Latin America in ethnicity but who also identify racially and socially as white? If you include them in this category, America remains two-thirds “white” all the way through 2060 and beyond. And this is not some wild diversion from previous definitions. Until 1930, Alba notes, Mexican immigrants were counted as “white” in the Census. If you kept that standard today, the whole notion of “majority-minority” would simply evaporate. 

Insisting that biracial identity must always be categorized as non-white runs the risk of actually calcifying old doctrines of race, and fails to see the blurry lines of identity and assimilation that increasingly typify American life.

There is no reason, in other words, to believe that Latinos won’t be seen in 2060 the way Italian-Americans were seen in 1960, except that they will be assimilating into an off-white, brownish mainstream rather than a monolithically and stereotypically white one. More to the point, “the idea that US babies are now mostly minority is an illusion fostered by arbitrary classification systems — arbitrary at least with respect to the daily lives of these young children.” If these kids don’t define themselves in racially binary terms, why should we impose that anachronistic rubric upon them? And if they identify as white, why should we not take their word for it?

Inter-marriage is critical to this — and the rates keep going up. So many of the next generation will not have a clear racial identity to the naked eye, making the line between majority and minority increasingly moot.

Both pieces offer much to think about if one is a thinking person.

Friday, February 19, 2021

Friday Morning Male Beauty


Rush Limbaugh Hurt the Conservative Movement

Growing up I recall William F. Buckley, Jr., and other conservative intellectuals, if you will, and a Republican Party and conservatives that valued education, knowledge, and science.  Those days are long gone and now we see a Republican Party that embraces QAnon crazies, embraces ignorance, puts ideology above objective reality and competence - see this piece that looks at Texas' current state for where this can lead -  and basically has one agenda: pandering to white grievance.  This tragedy did not happen overnight but there were some key players who helped the decline and debasement of the Republican Party and the larger conservative movement which are shunned by younger voters as well as educated suburbanites less gullible than the GOP's prime demographic, non-college graduate working class whites.  One of these individuals was Rush Limbaugh (shown lauding anti-gay Chick-fil-A) who enriched himself peddling hatred and division - much like evangelical pastors and charlatans like Franklin Graham and Robert Jeffress to name a few - and helped set the stage for the flight of the conservative intelligentsia from the GOP.  Conservatism has suffered as a consequence as laid out in a piece in The Atlantic.  Here are article highlights:

As a radio broadcaster, Rush Limbaugh, who died yesterday, was a great success: He pioneered his genre, attracted millions of listeners for several decades, and grew fantastically wealthy.

As a proponent of conservatism in America, Limbaugh was a failure who in his later years abandoned the project of advancing a positive agenda, culminating in his alignment with the vulgar style and populist anti-leftism of Donald Trump. Character no longer mattered. Budget deficits no longer mattered. Free trade no longer mattered. Nepotism no longer mattered. Lavishing praise on foreign dictators no longer mattered.

All that mattered was owning the libs in the culture war, in part to avenge a deeply felt sense of aggrievement. Limbaugh and Trump were alike in attaining great wealth and political influence while still talking and seeming to feel as though society was stacked against guys like them.

In obituaries and commemorations, many right-leaning commentators are crediting Limbaugh with advancing movement conservatism, as if he were the William F. Buckley Jr. of the Baby Boomer generation.

Yet he wasn’t for everyone with conservative instincts, and the proposition that Limbaugh helped conservatism thrive or grow is unsubstantiated. National Review and Barry Goldwater reinvigorated conservatism in postwar America. The high-water mark of American conservatism, Ronald Reagan’s presidency, was over before Limbaugh was a force in American politics.

Over the ensuing decades, as Limbaugh grew in fame and gained as much influence in the Republican Party as anyone, the conservative movement suffered from political and intellectual decline. “In place of the permanent things, we get Happy Meal conservatism: cheap, childish, familiar,” a writer at The American Conservative once complained. “Gone are the internal tensions, the thought-provoking paradoxes, the ideological uneasiness that marked the early Right.” The seesaw of partisan politics gave conservatives occasional victories, such as the 1994 Republican takeover of the House and the 2010 Tea Party wave, but once in office the GOP tended to squander those victories quickly and never accomplished much conservative change. The government kept getting bigger. The country kept getting more socially liberal. The right delighted in the fact that the left was never able to create its own Rush Limbaugh, despite various attempts. But perhaps that supposed failing has helped progressives make gains.

Since Limbaugh’s political radio career took off in the late 1980s, each successive Republican president has been less conservative than the last, and Trump was the least conservative GOP president since Richard Nixon. Looking at that trajectory and thinking that Limbaugh helped advance conservatism in America is as delusional as believing Jeb Bush’s claim that his brother kept Americans safe on 9/11.

Over time, as the talk-radio style of culture-war point scoring over a substantive agenda, and loyalty over intellectual honesty, became more common among GOP politicos as well as right-leaning entertainers, the coalition got less and less conservative, culminating in the GOP’s takeover by populists who openly championed tariffs and other barriers to the free trade of goods.

Limbaugh isn’t solely or mostly responsible for conservatism’s decline, but he is partly responsible. He spent several decades running interference for whoever was leading the Republican Party, only to complain later that those same Republicans were corrupt swamp creatures. Reagan, George H. W. Bush, Newt Gingrich, George W. Bush, Sarah Palin, Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan, and Trump differed greatly in their worldviews and policy agendas, but Limbaugh, always more a partisan warrior than an intellectual leader with independent convictions, aligned with each just at the height of his or her power in the GOP, even in years when fiscal profligacy under Republican leadership meant ballooning budget deficits and debt. Nor is fiscal conservatism the only core belief Limbaugh jettisoned.

In the 1990s, no one spent more time than Limbaugh insisting on the importance of character in a president. “This, ultimately, is why the issue of character is so important,” he wrote in his 1992 best seller, The Way Things Ought to Be. “Liberals wig out when character becomes an issue, because many of their candidates are of dubious character.” In the aughts, no one spent more time deflecting Democratic attacks against President George W. Bush’s foreign policy. But when Trump, a former Democrat and serial adulterer who lied constantly, became a Republican and ran for president characterizing Bush’s foreign policy as an unmitigated disaster, Limbaugh got on board as people with deeper commitments to conservatism went Never Trump. While never a RINO, he became a conservative in name only.

In one particularly odious example of fueling divisive racial paranoia, Limbaugh told his audience, “It’s Obama’s America, is it not? Obama’s America, white kids getting beat up on school buses now. You put your kids on a school bus, you expect safety but in Obama’s America the white kids now get beat up with the black kids cheering, ‘Yay, right on, right on, right on, right on,’ and, of course, everybody says the white kid deserved it, he was born a racist, he’s white.”

Limbaugh, as much as any leftist, was a hypocritical force for identity politics. More than that, he personified bigotry. Bull Connor and Lee Atwater were gone, George W. Bush was reaching out to Latino voters, but Limbaugh could still be relied upon to question Obama’s place of birth or call Sandra Fluke a slut.

In the end, Limbaugh was aligned with a Republican standard-bearer who openly bashed Mexicans and Muslims to win the White House. Trump lost the popular vote twice and served one term, accomplishing the confirmation of many conservative judges but little else of lasting consequence for conservatives. By the end of Trump’s time in office, conservative self-identification was falling overall.

Many on the right will still feel like Limbaugh did a lot for conservatism, but facts don’t care about feelings. William F. Buckley Jr. advanced conservatism. Milton Friedman advanced conservatism. Limbaugh advanced the smug hatred of liberals and feminists, took pleasure in mocking the left, fueled the ugliest impulses of his audience more often than he sought to elevate national discourse, boosted Republican politicians (whatever their policy preferences) until the end, and died an identitarian populist who betrayed the philosophy he long extolled. He will likely be remembered more for the worst things he said than the best things he said, because unlike Buckley, who said his share of awful things, no Limbaugh quote stands out as especially witty or brilliant. Given his talents as a broadcaster, his shortcomings were a tragedy. At least he gave generously to charity.

Thursday, February 18, 2021

More Thursday Male Beauty


Why Texans Are Cold and In the Dark

Years ago I live in Mobile, Alabama and worked for a large law firm as my first job out of law school. After that I moved to Houston, Texas, where I took an in-house counsel position with what was then a Fortune 50 company (I am still a member of the State Bar of Texas).  Ultimately, I moved back to Virginia where the majority of my family were located. Alabama and Texas have two things in common: in the years since I moved away, the state Republican parties in both states have become increasingly extreme and have increasingly embraced ignorance while rejecting needed state regulation.  Of the two, Alabama is by far the bigger basket case of craziness.  Yet now, the polar vortex that has hit Texas and  nearly wiped out its electric power grid  suggests that perhaps Texas is not so far behind Alabama (the image atleft shows Texans in the vehicle trying to stay warm).  A piece in the Washington Post by an energy economics lecturer at the University of Houston explains how the Texas GOP's control over the state legislature and governor's office over the last decades may have brought catastrophe down on the state.  Any state thinking of deregulating its electric generating system should think twice before repeating Texas' mistake.  Here are highlights: 

I began work on this piece with my manual Royal typewriter, by candlelight, because of the collapse of the Texas electricity grid. I, like millions of Texans, am without power, without water, cold and in the dark. The polar vortex is hammering the entire country. Why is Texas the only state with such a severe a grid failure?

Texas’s predicament stems from a decision that state lawmakers made about 20 years ago to abandon the traditional model of fully regulated electricity utilities. Still used across many areas of the nation, these electric companies — described as vertically integrated utilities — do not compete for customers and are allowed to earn a rate of return on investment. They can raise rates only with the permission of state regulators.

The charge to “deregulate” the larger Texas grid was led by the innovative energy trading firm Enron. Gov. George W. Bush (R), his successor Rick Perry (R) and the state legislature bought into the free market narrative. The state split apart the utilities. Only the transmission companies and local distribution companies remained fully regulated by the Public Utility Commission of Texas — there’s no real need for a dozen power lines to one’s home.

The operation of the electrical grid was consigned to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas. It is a nonprofit consortium that operates the grid for about 85 percent of Texas. Understand, ERCOT has no ability to invest in generation or infrastructure. It acts only as the air traffic controller for electrons on the network. ERCOT is accountable to no one, but it reaps hundreds of millions in fees. Because it is contained within Texas, ERCOT is not subject to federal oversight.

ERCOT created a system whereby generators, companies that own power plants, compete by bidding to provide electricity for the “day ahead” and in real time during the day. It is called an “electricity only” market. Think of it this way: If the players on the Washington Nationals were paid in the same fashion, only those players on the field for the game that day would earn a paycheck. Everyone else on the roster would be unpaid. Players would offer bids to play for the next day, each undercutting the other.

Like the Nats in my example, the generators, to sell any of their power, often bid their power so low they don’t make a profit. Some generators, strapped for cash, began to defer maintenance. Others played an even smarter game by closing power plants or not building new capacity to serve the growing population of Texas. As demand inexorably increased, they could look forward to charging more for their electricity because there was less of it. Really, not much different than what Enron did in the California electricity market in 2000-2001. Except that market manipulation was illegal in California, but not in Texas, thanks to ERCOT. It was destined to come crashing down, and the polar vortex of 2021 was the assault that finally broke the Texas grid.

The blame game has some pointing to frozen wind turbines as the cause of the blackouts. But the real problem in Texas is that generators have no financial incentive to invest in their own assets and keep them ready for winter, because the less stable they are, the more money they charge for their power.

Resolving Texas’s energy debacle requires major structural changes. An expedient solution is to create a capacity market similar to those in other states wherein generators would be compensated to keep their equipment ready. A second option is to return to a vertically integrated market that is focused on reliability such that power is available every day and the utilities earn a guaranteed return on investment for building out capacity that may only be required a few days a year when demand peaks.

It’s not really a mystery as to what’s going on, yet Texas’s leadership, including the governor, is promising investigations. But without fundamental changes to the state’s power grid, another failure is certain and with it further loss of life. What’s scarier is that other states are looking at Texas for inspiration on how to deregulate their own electric markets. I’m guessing those politicians across the nation pushing deregulation are now watching us shiver and having second thoughts.

The Growing Evangelical Delusion

Religion has long offered fertile ground for charlatans, frauds, scammers to operate and typically enrich themselves while railing against science and objective reality and all the while disseminating falsehoods. Disturbingly, there seem to always be those more than willing to believe the lies and messages of division that are the hallmark of these "pastors" and "prophets.  While in the White House Donald Trump courted a who's who of the evangelicals and scamvangelists many of whom cannot accept that Trump lost the 2020 election and that their prophecies about Trump's reelection were as fraudulent as the words spilling out of Der Trumpenfuhrer's mouth.  (Christian "prophet" and Trump devotee Kat Kerr is pictured at right.) Some have seen their error, but many continue to disseminate utter lunacy. A piece in Politico looks at the phenomenon.  Here are excerpts:

Perched on a cream-colored armchair, Johnny Enlow, a 61-year-old, California-based Pentecostal pastor with short-cropped gray hair, a trim beard and Tom Selleck-style mustache, looked into the camera and prophesied that Donald Trump would become president again. Not in 2024. In 2021.

“The January 20 inauguration date doesn’t really mean anything,” Enlow said in the January 29 video, which has gotten north of 100,000 views on YouTube. According to Enlow, more than 100 other “credible” Christian prophets around the world had likewise declared that Trump, somehow, would be restored to power soon.

Indeed, Enlow was not alone out on that limb. Greg Locke, a Nashville pastor with a massive social media following, said after Trump’s loss that he would “100 percent remain president of the United States for another term.” Kat Kerr, a pink-haired preacher from Jacksonville, Florida, declared repeatedly last month that Trump had won the election “by a landslide” and that God had told her he would serve for eight years.

Enlow, Locke and Kerr are among dozens of Christian prophets in America—religious leaders with followings among Pentecostal and charismatic Christians who claim the ability to predict the future based on dreams, visions and other supernatural phenomena. Some prophets are church leaders, while others operate independently. There are no official requirements for prophet status, though followers generally expect prophets to get at least a few prophecies right.

But, lately, that standard has come under duress—particularly when it comes to Donald Trump.

In 2015, spurred by the lengthy prophecy of a 27-year-old wunderkind named Jeremiah Johnson, many Pentecostals and charismatics embraced the idea that God had chosen Trump to restore America’s Christian moorings. Trump’s surprise win in 2016 offered a dramatic validation, and in 2020 dozens of prophets declared that he would win election again. This time, they were wrong. Yet, in the wake of Joe Biden’s victory, instead of apologizing or backtracking, a number of prophets continue to assert that it is God’s will for Trump to be in the White House and that a miraculous reversal is nigh.

[M]any observers worry that these prophets are sowing more confusion, blurring the line between misinformation and religious proclamation. They are spreading their message to wide audiences—some preachers who amplify these prophecies have followings in the millions—that increasingly exist in an echo chamber of like-minded religious YouTube channels, Instagram feeds and websites such as ElijahList, host of the YouTube channel ElijahStreams, where Enlow’s video aired.

It’s well known that Trump received strong support from white evangelicals in the 2020 election; estimates hover around 80 percent. But the role that prophecy plays in that support might be underexplored. In a survey conducted last year, two political scientists found that nearly half of America’s church-attending white Protestants believed Trump was anointed by God to be president—a portion of the population that other scholars have dubbed “prophecy voters.” The share is likely higher among charismatic Christians . . .

Not all prophets have doubled down on their Trump prophecies since the election, however. And as some have backed away from Trump, a schism has emerged.

In a December 15 article, Michael Brown, a longtime charismatic revivalist and scholar in Charlotte, North Carolina, had sharp words, warning co-religionists: “There is no reality in which Trump actually did win but in fact didn’t win. … To entertain possibilities like this is to mock the integrity of prophecy and to make us charismatics look like total fools.” After apologizing on January 7 for his own prophecy that Trump would be reelected, Jeremiah Johnson called parts of the prophetic movement “deeply sick.”

The emerging rift mirrors the one in the GOP, with one faction trying to move on from Trump in the name of democratic principles, and the other redoubling their commitment to him, spurred by the grassroots and in defiance of facts. Johnson and other prophets in his camp have received fervent pushback from their followers. . . . “This has opened the door to outright delusion,” Brown said in an interview. “As a full-blooded charismatic, I’ll say we’ve earned the world’s mockery for our foolishness.”

In a 2020 book, James Beverley, a research professor at Tyndale University in Toronto, tracked more than 500 prophecies about Trump by more than 100 prophets over a 15-year period, and found a low batting average for accuracy. “My research,” Beverley told me, “shows that the prophecies are usually vague, sometimes totally wrong, and, with rare exception, have failed to be properly critical of Trump.”

Nonetheless, Trump rewarded his Pentecostal supporters with photo ops in the Oval Office and visits to their churches, including one this past October in Las Vegas, where leaders prophesied, to a cheering crowd, that Trump would win a second term.

“How did so many of us end up with an almost a cultlike devotion to a leader, compromise our ethics for a seat at the table and drape the Gospel in an American flag?”

I continue to believe that evangelicals and Christofascists will be the death of Christianity.  Their lies, hypocrisy, delusions and outright cruelty towards others are steadily killing the Christian brand.  No wonder 40% of the under 30 years of age generations want nothing to do with religion. 

Thursday Morning Male Beauty


How Rush Limbaugh Created Donald Trump and Destroyed the GOP

Adapting the words of the inimitable Bette Davis: "You should never say bad things about the dead, only good. Rush Limbaugh is dead. Good." Each of us has the choice of working for good or embracing destructive endeavors. Rush Limbaugh - a hypocrite of immense proportions - chose the latter and for decades spewed hatred and bigotry against countless Americans based on their race, gender and sexual orientation. In the process he amassed a fortune at the expense of millions and the nation as a whole thanks to his message of hate, fear and division. He also helped pave the way for Donald Trump and accelerated the degradation of the Republican Party which is now the party of white supremacists and religious extremists which would end American democracy in order to cling to power. While the hate merchants of the far right mourn Limbaugh's passing yesterday, the rest of us should be relieved that Limbaugh malevolent influence is gone. A column at CNN looks at Limbaugh's rise and the rise of Trump and the decline of the Republican Party. Here are excerpts:

In November 1987, Donald Trump published "The Art of the Deal," his business (and life) manifesto that is widely cited as his official entry into the cultural zeitgeist. Nine months later, Rush Limbaugh broadcast his first nationally syndicated radio show.

The two men's careers moved in parallel over the next three-plus decades, with both becoming national (and international) celebrities -- hated by some, loved by others . . . 

Limbaugh's effect on Trump -- as the billionaire businessman honed a political persona built around American exceptionalism, sticking it to the elites and weaponizing racial animus -- is profound. Trump was a devotee of Limbaugh's radio show and an unapologetic supporter of the deeply controversial conservative talking head. 

It's not too much to say that without Rush Limbaugh, there might never been a President Donald Trump. Limbaugh didn't create Trump. But he provided as sort of broad ideological framework for Trump to fit his own ideas into. And even more importantly, Limbaugh spent decades sowing distrust with the media and savaging Democrats in deeply personal terms -- moves that provided fertile ground for the appeals Trump eventually rode to the White House. 

To listen to Limbaugh in the 1990s and 2000s is to hear clear indicators of themes that Trump picked up on in his presidential candidacy. In a 2009 speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference, Limbaugh laid out his vision of what it meant to be a conservative.  . . . It's as though Trump took this speech and turned it into a presidential campaign.

But there was more to Limbaugh's influence on Trump -- and the Republican Party that would eventually choose him as its presidential nominee in 2016 -- than just words and policies. There was also a seething resentment and anger, often expressed in Limbaugh's case via biting sarcasm, aimed at the elites, be they in politics, media or anything else. 

Yes, Limbaugh would have politicians on his show from time to time, including the first family of the Republican establishment: The Bushes. But Limbaugh's bread and butter wasn't interviews with members of elected leadership. It was his largely one-way jeremiads launched into the ears of his voracious "Dittoheads" -- brutal attacks on politicians (of both parties) who he believed were too cowardly to stand up and do what was right. 

Limbaugh cast himself as the voice of the everyman, the guy who said what everyone -- or at least some people -- was thinking. 

What Limbaugh understood was that his power rested in his loyal followers. That as long as he could command them, politicians would fear him. And that would make him powerful.

(Sound familiar?) 

He also understood that he could make controversy work for him. That the most important thing wasn't being right, it was being relevant. And so, while Limbaugh took hits for racist comments about African American quarterback Donovan McNabb in the early 2000s and sexist comments about a Georgetown law student named Sandra Fluke in 2012, those incidents never destroyed him. And in some circles, they made him even more powerful.

(Sound familiar?)

Perhaps the best example of how Trump and Trumpism borrowed from the Limbaugh playbook came during the presidency of Barack Obama, when both men became leading lights in the "birther" movement -- the repeatedly debunked notion that Obama was not actually born in the United States and, therefore, was not eligible to be president. 

As far back as the summer of 2009, Limbaugh was telling his listeners that Obama "has yet to have to prove that he's a citizen." Trump, who had been looking for a way into politics for the better part of the previous decade, picked up on the birther nonsense as a way to build credibility with just the people that Limbaugh spoke to. 

The point here is a simple one: Donald Trump was the living, breathing embodiment of the politics of grievance that Limbaugh spent decades peddling. Whereas Limbaugh weaponized race and misogyny for ratings, Trump did it for votes. Where Limbaugh talked about the need to excise the Republican Party of moderates and "squishes," Trump used his office and power within the party to cleanse it of anyone who wouldn't fall in line with him. Limbaugh talked. Trump did. 

Trump was Limbaugh's Frankenstein monster. And he proudly stood by him until the very end.

In my opinion, the world will be an even better place when we can say  "Donald Trump is dead. Good." Both Limbaugh and Trump are the face of evil.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Wednesday Morning Male Beauty


Discriminatory Virginia Adoption Agencies See Cuts in State Funding

I have long opposed private and religious organizations that discriminate against members of the public receiving government funding.  Hypocritically, these organizations whine that cuts in government funding violate their religious freedom and/or freedom of speech yet conservatives and religious organizations had no problem with cuts in funding to artists and organizations that offended their religious sensibilities in the past.  Simply put, their is no right to receive government funding and, if an organization openly discriminates against segments of the population, they have forfeited any right to public funding.  Virginia lawmakers appear posed to implement this common sense and equitable rule by cutting funding to adoption agencies that refuse to work with LGBT couples and individuals. What is particularly cruel about such organizations is that they would rather leave children trapped in the foster home revolving door than allow them to find loving homes.  If discriminatory agencies cannot survive financially without the state dole, then perhaps they deserve to go out of business. A piece at NBC12 looks at the legislative effort,.  Here are highlights:

Virginia lawmakers are on the verge of rolling back a state law that allows faith-based adoption and foster-care agencies to refuse service to LGBTQ families.

The legislation has spurred heated debate, with representatives of Catholic charitable organizations arguing that being forced to serve gay couples would violate their faith and civil rights advocates decrying the existing rules as state-sanctioned discrimination.

“To say that we can’t place children because they’re in gay families, and therefore they have to age out of the foster care system and not have a loving home, is cruel to these children,” said Del. Mark Levine, D-Alexandria, who proposed the repeal.

Virginia was the second state in the country to add what lawmakers called a “conscience clause” to its adoption laws in 2012 language that guarantees religious adoption and foster care agencies the right to refuse any placement that “would violate the agency’s written religious or moral convictions or policies.”

Republican lawmakers, who then controlled the General Assembly and executive branch, passed the law a year after an unsuccessful push by LBGTQ groups to get the state’s social services board to revoke licenses from providers that engage in discrimination.

Now that Democrats control the legislature, some are ready to revisit the decision. A full repeal proposed by Levine passed the House on a party-line vote early this month.

Democrats in the Senate, however, said last week they are less comfortable with the measure, passing an amended version that would allow the groups to continue operating under the current rules, but cut state funding that helps finance their operations.

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

More Tuesday Male Beauty


Texas' Electricity Fiasco: A Warning of America's Inadequate Infrastructure

Most utility companies' focus is on maximizing investor returns and ignoring long term capital investment needs in preference to short term profits.  Lip service is given to meeting customer needs and comfort but it is the investors are who the real focus of interest.  It's a phenomenon that plagues most of corporate America which too often takes a far too short term view of planning for the future.   The fiasco in Texas where the electric power grid has collapsed and left millions without power is a case in point (so too is Dominion Energy's reluctance to place lines underground so as to avoid power outages, especially in hurricanes and ice storms).  The Texas fiasco also highlights the inadequacies of America's infrastructure which will see more and more stress as climate change continues. What once were 100 or 500 year events are becoming all to regular. One can hope that the Biden/Harris administration's infrastructure proposals address some of the failings.  A piece in the Washington Post notes what many utilities and regulators will unfortunately do:

If past is prologue, elected officials and policymakers will quickly move on as well. Modernizing the electrical grid to make it more resilient, more efficient and more secure is the worst kind of challenge: complex, expensive and easy to ignore.

The complexity is largely a function of local ownership and local regulation of electrical utilities. They see overall demand for electricity leveling out, thanks to more efficient homes and businesses, which means a future without growth for their bottom lines. Because a grid is only as strong as its weakest member, major improvements would require every local utility to make major investments despite the no-growth outlook. Most would prefer to look away.

A second piece in the New York Times looks at why the urge to "look away" will be foolish as  America and the world come face to face with more realities of climate change and what were once deemed remote climate swings and extremes.  Here are highlights:

Huge winter storms plunged large parts of the central and southern United States into an energy crisis this week, with frigid blasts of Arctic weather crippling electric grids and leaving millions of Americans without power amid dangerously cold temperatures.

The grid failures were most severe in Texas, where more than four million people woke up Tuesday morning to rolling blackouts. Separate regional grids in the Southwest and Midwest also faced serious strain. As of Tuesday afternoon, at least 23 people nationwide had died in the storm or its aftermath.

Analysts have begun to identify key factors behind the grid failures in Texas. Record-breaking cold weather spurred residents to crank up their electric heaters and pushed power demand beyond the worst-case scenarios that grid operators had planned for. At the same time, a large fraction of the state’s gas-fired power plants were knocked offline amid icy conditions, with some plants suffering fuel shortages as natural gas demand spiked. Many of Texas’ wind turbines also froze and stopped working.

The crisis sounded an alarm for power systems throughout the country. Electric grids can be engineered to handle a wide range of severe conditions — as long as grid operators can reliably predict the dangers ahead. But as climate change accelerates, many electric grids will face extreme weather events that go far beyond the historical conditions those systems were designed for, putting them at risk of catastrophic failure.

{I]t is clear that global warming poses a barrage of additional threats to power systems nationwide, including fiercer heat waves and water shortages.

Measures that could help make electric grids more robust — such as fortifying power plants against extreme weather, or installing more backup power sources — could prove expensive. But as Texas shows, blackouts can be extremely costly, too. And, experts said, unless grid planners start planning for increasingly wild and unpredictable climate conditions, grid failures will happen again and again.

“It’s essentially a question of how much insurance you want to buy,” said Jesse Jenkins, an energy systems engineer at Princeton University. “What makes this problem even harder is that we’re now in a world where, especially with climate change, the past is no longer a good guide to the future. We have to get much better at preparing for the unexpected.”

Texas’ main electric grid, which largely operates independently from the rest of the country, has been built with the state’s most common weather extremes in mind: soaring summer temperatures that cause millions of Texans to turn up their air-conditioners all at once.

While freezing weather is rarer, grid operators in Texas have also long known that electricity demand can spike in the winter, particularly after damaging cold snaps in 2011 and 2018. But this week’s winter storms, which buried the state in snow and ice, and led to record-cold temperatures, surpassed all expectations — and pushed the grid to its breaking point.

As temperatures dropped, many homes were relying on older, inefficient electric heaters that consume more power.

The problems compounded from there, with frigid weather on Monday disabling power plants with capacity totaling more than 30 gigawatts. The vast majority of those failures occurred at thermal power plants, like natural gas generators, as plummeting temperatures paralyzed plant equipment and soaring demand for natural gas left some plants struggling to obtain sufficient fuel. A number of the state’s power plants were also offline for scheduled maintenance in preparation for the summer peak.

“No one’s model of the power system envisioned that all 254 Texas counties would come under a winter storm warning at the same time,” said Joshua Rhodes, an expert on the state’s electric grid at the University of Texas, Austin. “It’s putting major strain on both the electricity grid and the gas grid that feeds both electricity and heat.”

[S]ome have also wondered whether the unique way the state manages its largely deregulated electricity system may have played a role. In the mid-1990s, for instance, Texas decided against paying energy producers to hold a fixed number of backup power plants in reserve, instead letting market forces dictate what happens on the grid.

In theory, experts said, there are technical solutions that can avert such problems.

Wind turbines can be equipped with heaters and other devices so that they can operate in icy conditions — as is often done in the upper Midwest, where cold weather is more common. Gas plants can be built to store oil on-site and switch over to burning the fuel if needed, as is often done in the Northeast, where natural gas shortages are common. Grid regulators can design markets that pay extra to keep a larger fleet of backup power plants in reserve in case of emergencies, as is done in the Mid-Atlantic.

But these solutions all cost money, and grid operators are often wary of forcing consumers to pay extra for safeguards.

[S]ome climate scientists have also suggested that global warming could, paradoxically, bring more unusually fierce winter storms. Some research indicates that Arctic warming is weakening the jet stream, the high-level air current that circles the northern latitudes and usually holds back the frigid polar vortex. This can allow cold air to periodically escape to the South, resulting in episodes of bitter cold in places that rarely get nipped by frost.

All over the country, utilities and grid operators are confronting similar questions, as climate change threatens to intensify heat waves, floods, water shortages and other calamities, all of which could create novel risks for the nation’s electricity systems. Adapting to those risks could carry a hefty price tag: One recent study found that the Southeast alone may need 35 percent more electric capacity by 2050 simply to deal with the known hazards of climate change.

“We need to decarbonize our power systems so that climate change doesn’t keep getting worse, but we also need to adapt to changing conditions at the same time. And the latter alone is going to be very costly. We can already see that the systems we have today aren’t handling this very well.”

Tuesday Morning Male Beauty


The Republican Threat to Democracy

Some thought the Republican Party of old died in 2016 with Trump's election.  One thing is clear, it is most certainly dead in 2021 with its elected officials for the most part either cowering before the party base in fear or encouraging the delusion that has swept across the party base as sane individuals have largely fled leaving behind a coquetries of white supremacists, Christofascists  and neo-Nazis obsessed with taking the nation back to the 1950's and driving non-whites, gays and anyone and everyone who fails to subscribe to their white nationalism back to an invisible status. With evangelicals and Christofascists now composing a key part of the GOP base it's no surprise that all that truly matters is clinging to power with the end justifying the means no matter how extreme.  Hypocritically, these people feign being followers of Christ, but will lie, cheat, and resort to violence to maintain control. Hence, there should be no surprise that the Capitol insurrectionists included a large "Christian" contingent. Now, in order to retain control, much of the GOP base is ready to discard democracy if that's what it takes in their eyes to maintain white Christian supremacy. A column in the Washington Post by a former Republican looks at this scary reality.  Here are excerpts:

The acquittal of former president Donald Trump from charges of inciting insurrection brought hints of hope for the Republican future. There was Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) following the facts to a conviction vote. There was Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) bluntly opposing the president’s actions. The circle of GOP resistance to Trump’s influence has expanded beyond the conscience of Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah).

But the dominant note of the day was still cowardice. The case presented by the House impeachment managers was so compelling and overwhelming that the extent of Republican cravenness was highlighted in neon. Republicans who knew better tried to hide behind thin technicalities. And most Republican senators did not seem to know better. In the end, we witnessed a historic collapse of moral and political leadership. And it was no less tragic for being expected.

There is a natural process by which political parties renew themselves. . . . . This dialectic, however, really operates only in the realm of policy. If Trumpism were merely a set of proposals, there could be an antithesis. But the movement fully revealed by the Jan. 6 invasion of the U.S. Capitol is united by a belief that the White, Christian America of its imagination is on the verge of destruction, and that it must be preserved by any means necessary. This is less a political philosophy than a warped religious belief. There can be no compromise in a culture war. There can be no splitting of differences at Armageddon.

What has emerged within the Republican Party is a debate on the value of democracy itself. In the traditional American view, the democratic process has an essential nobility. It does not always produce the results we seek, yet, in the long run, it protects the rights we value. But the Trumpian view of democracy is purely instrumental. With the stakes of politics so high — with socialists, multiculturalists and child rapists (as the QAnon fabulists would have it) intent on destroying American society — outcomes are the only things that really matter. Not truth. Not civility. Not electoral procedure. Just the gaining and maintenance of power.

A loss of faith in democratic structures does not lead to anarchy. It leads people to invest their hopes in someone who promises to defend their fragile way of life. In a January 2020 survey published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, more than half of Republicans agreed that “the traditional American way of life is disappearing so fast that we may have to use force to save it.” More than 40 percent agreed that “a time will come when patriotic Americans have to take the law into their own hands.” . . . Tribalism plus desperation equals authoritarian thinking.

From one perspective, it is absurd that so many Americans have invested their hopes for the preservation of civilization in a fool. But Trump has been effective in promoting the tribalism of White grievance, as well as desperation about the fate of America. And, unlike any other president, he was happy to step into an authoritarian role, attempting to maintain power through intimidation and violence.

Can the GOP really have a productive debate between people who believe in democracy and those who have lost patience for it? . . . The greatest need in our politics is a conservatism that opposes authoritarianism. The greatest question: Can such a movement emerge within the framework of the Republican Party?

As it stands, I am skeptical. There are scattered outposts of Republican sanity in Congress, and more in state governments. But in most of the GOP, the rot has reached the roots. Activists feel the anger that Trump has fed rather the contempt for Trump that he has earned. They feel cheated rather than defeated.

At the same time — though I admire the normality and professionalism of President Biden’s administration — it is hard to imagine a future for market-oriented, pro-life conservatives in the Democratic Party.

And it is equally difficult to believe that a third-party challenge to the political duopoly would be anything other than quixotic.

This should leave me both homeless and hopeless. But even an exiled conservatism offers this comfort: Nothing human is permanent. And no good cause is finally lost.

Monday, February 15, 2021

More Monday Male Beauty


Republican Senators Want the Courts to Take Care of Trump

Having utterly failed in their constitutional duty to vote to convict Donald Trump during Trump's second impeachment trial out of fear of the hideous base of the GOP - hanging their no vote on a technicality dismissed by most constitutional scholars - some Senate Republicans appear to be hoping that pending criminal investigations of Trump and/or his business dealings will "lock him up" or otherwise end his ability to remain a controlling figure in the GOP which as of now is the Trump Party.  A little bit of spine and political courage on the part of these worthless senators could have ended Trump's toxic and racist influence much more quickly and definitively.  A piece in New York Magazine looks at the phenomenon of hopes placed on the courts and prosecutors by those devoid of a backbone or any loyalty to the U.S. Constitution.  Here are highlights: 

Donald Trump limped his way to acquittal in his second impeachment trial, with 57 senators voting to convict him of inciting insurrection. But it is an ominous sign that not only did many of the senators who did vote to acquit base their position on a technicality — Trump was supposedly ineligible for impeachment as an ex-officeholder, as opposed to not guilty of the crime — they conspicuously pointed toward the court system as a venue for further prosecution.

“The ultimate accountability is through our criminal justice system where political passions are checked,” said Republican senator Thom Tillis, who voted not guilty, “No president is above the law or immune from criminal prosecution, and that includes former president Trump.” Mitch McConnell, who likewise voted to acquit, announced, “Impeachment was never meant to be the final forum for American justice. … We have a criminal justice system in this country. We have civil litigation. And former Presidents are not immune from being held accountable by either one.”

This might seem fanciful, or a convenient way for Republicans to evade responsibility. But Trump is facing serious legal exposure.

Trump is the subject of two ongoing investigations in the state of New York. One, by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, is criminal. The other, by Attorney General Letitia James, is currently civil, but could easily become a criminal case.

Both these investigations concern financial crimes that have, at least in part, been documented by the media and appear to involve relatively clear violations of the law. Trump has made several deals in which he apparently kept two sets of books, giving one set of numbers to his lenders and a very different set of numbers to tax authorities.

Even if prosecutors turn up nothing new, which is hardly a given, he faces a high risk of being charged. There’s no reason to believe the investigations are getting better for Trump, and plenty of reason to believe they can get worse. The Wall Street Journal today reports that Vance’s probe is expanding to look at additional Manhattan properties not previously known to be part of his investigation.

Third, both Georgia’s secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and Fulton County prosecutor Fani Willis are investigating Trump’s campaign to pressure state officials to flip the vote there. Willis has suggested Trump might have committed either criminal solicitation to commit election fraud, or racketeering, by demanding they “find 11,780 votes,” an almost comically corrupt request he was caught making on tape.

And fourth, Trump’s role in inciting the riot, or refusing to take action to halt it once underway, could also be the subject of criminal investigation.

The best protection Trump would enjoy from any of these known or potential investigations is the informal aura of legal impunity granted to former presidents. That protection has been stripped off by the insurrection, and the tepid defense mounted by his former party.

Republicans in Congress may not want to anger their base by voting openly to disqualify Trump from office. But they very obviously wish for Trump to be disqualified by somebody else. The pointed gestures toward the courts by McConnell and his allies are a clear signal that those judges shouldn’t extend to Trump any special protection.

Judges don’t think exactly like elected officials do, of course. But they don’t think completely unlike them. The motivation of jurists is a mysterious elixir of legal principle and political calculation. Their reasoning needs to make some sense, but the bar of “reasonable” tends to be much lower to reach a favorable ruling for their team.

Republicans are going out of their way to tell the courts that they don’t see Trump as a member of their team. Will nobody rid them of this turbulent Florida man?