Saturday, March 06, 2021

Final Saturday Male Beauty

 For me, a beautiful face is a fist priority.

The Fake Anger of Neanderthal Republicans

The tern "Neanderthal" has two generally accepted meanings.  One is the extinct species of human that was widely distributed in ice-age Europe between c. 120,000–35,000 years ago. The second is an uncivilized, unintelligent, or uncouth person.  When Joe Biden condemned the actions of the governors of Texas and Mississippi in rescinding all mask requirements in their states he rightly said “The last thing we need is Neanderthal thinking,” obviously using the second definition.  Nonetheless the feigned anger and rage from low intelligence Republicans - who embrace ignorance and reject knowledge and science - and the usual liars on Fox News would make you think Biden had proposed selling their mothers into prostitution or something equally heinous.  Never mind that the CDC and medical experts are unanimous in stating that masks should still be mandatory.  And never mind that Texas governor Greg Abbott is desperate to distract Texans from the the colossal failure that Republican deregulation policies brought to Texas' power grid and the $16 billion in over charges for electricity Texans are now facing.  A column in the Washington Post looks at the fake outrage from mindless and/or shameless amoral Republicans (think Josh Hawley) and the Trump prostitutes at Fox News (a fun piece at New York Magazine suggests that Neanderthals were smarter than today's Republicans).  Here are highlights from the Post column:

Neanderthals went extinct about 30,000 years ago, but that did not stop Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) from speaking affectionately about them on Thursday in the present tense. “Neanderthals are hunter-gatherers,” she said on Fox Business. “They’re protectors of their family. They are resilient. They’re resourceful. They tend to their own. So I think Joe Biden needs to rethink what he is saying.”

What President Biden said, correctly, is that the Republican governors of Texas and Mississippi are making “a big mistake” by rescinding mask mandates when new coronavirus variants are spreading. “The last thing we need is Neanderthal thinking,” Biden said on a day when 2,492 more Americans died of the contagion.

Conservative media figures and their GOP guests rushed to strip the president’s comment of context and feign injury, presenting the remark as if Biden had referred to all Republicans as Neanderthals. “Simply giving freedoms causes Joe Biden — ‘the great uniter’ — to call us Neanderthals,” former White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said on her debut appearance as a paid Fox analyst.

Leave aside the irony of people such as Blackburn, who does not accept the theory of evolution, expressing performative outrage on behalf of an extinct species whose very existence she rejects. Further irony: Evidence suggests that viruses thinned the Neanderthal population and they went extinct after failing to adapt to a changing climate.

The familiar chorus of faux indignation from the bad-faith brigade illustrates more than just how reflexive and juvenile the discourse has become. This week also put into stark relief how leading Republicans hope to fight their way out of the wilderness by leaning into grievance and picking culture war battles.

This is what the new echo chamber sounds like: “If you disagree with him, you’re a Neanderthal,” said Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.). “Basically, what he’s doing is calling us stupid,” said Rep. Michael Waltz (R-Fla.).

Republican politicians and their cable partners toss out this red meat because they believe it is what their shared audience, or base, wants to eat. On Thursday alone, the word “Neanderthal” was mentioned at least 98 times on Fox News and another 35 times on Fox Business. Thirteen of Fox News’s 15 shows devoted airtime to Neander-gate, as did six of the nine shows on Fox Business, according to Media Matters for America.

Fox News led its website with a story about the backlash its hosts had ginned up. The banner headline called it “JOE’S ‘DEPLORABLE’ MOMENT.” And that’s what gave away their cynical game. . . . . She explained that half of Trump supporters who “feel that government has let them down” deserved genuine empathy, but that Trump had “lifted” up others who are “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic — you name it.” It’s hard to argue with her underlying point after watching what Trump’s presidency unleashed, from Charlottesville to the Jan. 6 insurrection.

Fox News hosts and guests this week also compared Biden’s warning against “Neanderthal thinking” to Barack Obama’s 2008 remark that small-town voters who have struggled economically “cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them.”

“We were the deplorables, we were smelly Walmart people, then we were chumps for Trump, bitter clingers, now it’s Neanderthal,” said “Fox & Friends” host Pete Hegseth, who went into television after a failed Senate bid in Minnesota and whose elite pedigree includes degrees from Princeton and Harvard.

The cable empire keeps pumping from this well of resentment because doing so has proven profitable, keeping viewers angry and tuned in. . . . Fox News’s efforts to capitalize on the cultural epidemic of grievance and victimhood are, however irresponsible, entirely rational. The same is true for the GOP: Trump’s success taught a new generation of Republicans the continuing potency of us-against-them, anti-elitist messaging — even if it was more rhetoric than reality.

Republicans now face the familiar challenge of keeping their populist base riled up while opposing policies that would benefit many of those core supporters — this time without Trump. Indeed, even as Republicans tried to convince their voters to take offense at Biden’s Neanderthal label, they were voting en masse against a measure to extend unemployment benefits and send $1,400 checks to millions of households, while arguing against a $15 an hour minimum wage.

The challenge for Democrats is to figure out how to make the fight for the working class a debate over real-world policies, not phony culture war distractions.

"Drained-Pool Politics" Harms Everyone

Zero sum thinking and politics - a hallmark of the right and today's Republican Party - insists that anything that adds rights or economic benefit to one group of necessity takes something away from others. Thus, expanded rights and protections for gays means a loss of rights to everyone else.  The same mindset holds true when it comes giving economic benefits to minorities which is depicted as inflicting economic harm on others in society.  The result is that rather than advance policies that benefit everyone, for decades America has refused to direct resources and money to projects and policies that benefit everyone in society.  It's the reason America lags Western Europe in infrastructure improvements - e.g., the British and French rail systems are remarkable - and a decent national health care system.  Those on the right would rather go without benefits themselves than see tax dollars used on programs that support minorities.  A new book makes the case that this mindset not only holds America back but also hurts racist whites.  A piece at CNN looks at the book and it's premise.  Here are highlights:

If you're a White person who thinks racism only hurts people of color, the story behind an empty, abandoned swimming pool in Missouri might just change your mind.

The Fairground Park pool in St. Louis was the largest public pool in the US when it was built in 1919. It featured sand from a beach, a fancy diving board and enough room for up to 10,000 swimmers. It was dug during a pool-building boom when cities and towns competed to provide their citizens with public amenities that promoted civic pride and symbolized a perk of the American dream. 

These public pools, of course, were for Whites only. But when civil rights leaders successfully pushed for them to be integrated, many cities either sold the pools to private entities or, in the case of Fairground Park, eventually drained them and closed them down for good.

These closures didn't just hurt Black people, though -- they also denied the pleasures of the pool to White people. 

Heather McGhee tells the story of the Fairground Park pool in her powerful new book, "The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together." McGhee employs the metaphor of a drained, cracked public pool to make a larger point: White refusal to share resources available to all US citizens doesn't just hurt people of color. It damages their families and their future, too. 

McGhee has a name for this pain. She calls it "drained-pool politics." If you want to know why the US has one of the most inefficient health care systems among advanced nations, some of the worst infrastructure and a dysfunctional political system, blame drained-pool politics, she says.

Those politics are built on a lie that many White Americans have bought for centuries: When Black or brown people gain something, White people lose. 

"The narrative that White people should see the well-being of people of color as a threat to their own is one of the most powerful subterranean stories in America," McGhee writes in her book. "Until we destroy the idea, opponents of progress can always unearth it, and use it to block any collective action that benefits us all." 

But McGhee's book doesn't just make the familiar "White people are voting against their economic interests" argument that many of us have heard before. She fills it with personal stories from her life and the people she encountered during three years of visiting churches, union halls and small towns across America.

When you think about the picture that Ronald Reagan was trying to paint of government mismanagement and government's poor judgment, you'd already had a decade of the War on Poverty, which was an extension of public benefits across the color line -- from it being up until the 1960s largely for White people.

You think about the ways in which government provided for the common good during the 1930s, '40s and '50s and in ways that built the White middle class. My book includes a section where it lists all the free stuff that the government gave to White families to help them have intergenerational wealth and economic security and how once we began to desegregate, government became stingier and that impacted everybody.

There are some success stories in the country's pandemic response and in places where the vaccine is being delivered well. . . . . And that's the kind of sight to we need to see more of so that we can restore our faith in the possibility of what we can do together. The exact counter to that is in Texas, a state cut off from the federal government to avoid being regulated, to avoid the kinds of safeguards that would have stopped the power outages, a state government that was totally absent from prevention to mitigation and taking care of its people. That was a very clear example of drained pool politics, of anti-government sentiment being put into policies that hurt everyone. It cost lives.

More Saturday Male Beauty


MAGA Has Never Been About Economics

One of the continuing myths of the 2016 and 2020 elections - which some in the main stream media still bloviate about - is that white voters supported Donald Trump as a result of economic dislocation and fears of being left behind by globalization. Trump support (and GOP support to a lesser but still significant extent) revolves around white supremacy and white Christian nationalism that believes any betterment of the lives and acceptance of minorities threatens white privilege. The irony, which has been noted numerous times on this blog, is that Trump's policies and those of the GOP in general damage the economic interests of working class and many middle class voters and remain focused on benefitting the wealthy despite lip service about being the party of the working class.  A column in the Washington Post by a former Republican looks at the lie that allegiance to Trump stemmed from economic concerns and/or pro-working class policies.  Here are column highlights:

Republicans like to bill themselves as a “working-class” party. But just as their refusal to take seriously the real threat behind the deaths and injuries of law enforcement personnel on Jan. 6 strips them of the pretense of being “pro police” or defenders of “law and order,” so too does their economic agenda dispense with the fiction that they are attuned to the interests of working- and middle-class Americans.

The New York Times gives the GOP too much credit when it declares that “Republicans have offered very little to advance the economic interests of blue-collar workers.” The phrase “offered very little” suggests they have been trying but just haven’t managed to come up with something. In reality, they have not been trying to enact a populist agenda.

Let’s review: Republicans backed a tax cut under the last administration that primarily benefited the rich and corporations; attempted to strip health-care coverage from tens of millions of Americans by repealing the Affordable Care Act; and insisted that front-line workers, the elderly and others prioritize the “economy” (i.e. the stock market) over their own health while downplaying the pandemic that has disproportionately affected lower-wage workers. (There are hundreds of examples, including rolling back labor regulations to deprive millions of workers of overtime pay.)

Since President Biden’s inauguration, Republicans have picked up where they left off. They opposed giving middle- and lower-class workers $1,400 checks, raising the unemployment subsidy (for fear their working-class friends would prefer lying on their couches to getting work), providing millions with food subsidies, and supporting states and localities that employ police, firefighters, teachers and other middle- and working-class employees.

It is not simply that Republicans have fallen short in advancing middle- and working-class interests; they have acted in ways directly contrary to the interests of those they claim to represent.

And let us be clear: The MAGA phenomenon was never about economic dislocation. In 2018, a study from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences concluded that “White, Christian and male voters ... turned to Mr. Trump because they felt their status was at risk.” An Iowa study found, “Economic distress is not a significant factor in explaining the shift in Iowa voters from Democrat to Republican between 2008 and 2016. The election outcomes do not signify [a revolt] among working-class voters left behind by globalization.”

The MAGA Republican Party has never represented the interests of working- and middle-class Americans; it and their cult leader have represented the “interests” of those motivated by xenophobia, racism and misogyny — whatever their economic status. We know that statistically voting for Trump correlates most closely with the belief that Whites, not African Americans, are discriminated against and with watching Fox News.

What is the GOP’s “agenda” now? Voter suppression to deter minorities from voting, angry memes that tell the base that elites have contempt for them and Jan. 6 denial. None of this has to do with working-class “interests.” It is about white supremacy.

Republicans use White grievance to rile their base while pursuing economic interests that benefit the wealthy donor class. It is not an anomaly; it is standard operating procedure for the party of White grievance.

Saturday Morning Male Beauty


The Rise of the Biden Republicans

While Donald Trump and Republicans blame minority voters for Trump's loss in 2020 - hence the GOP effort across the country to disenfranchise as many minority voters a possible - a significant reason for the loss was white voters, especially in the suburbs, who failed to rally to Trump's racist message and were disgusted with Trump's mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic which increased the death toll and likely helped fuel the length of societal shutdown. A good portion of such voters were Republicans or former Republicans who wanted competence in government again and more than pandering to white grievances while economically delivering tangible benefit only to the wealthy. Seemingly, Joe Biden and at least some of the Democrat leadership recognize this opening and are out to win so-called "Reagan Democrats" back from the GOP but to also cement bonds with what some are calling "Biden Republicans."  The future of American democracy likely depends on the success of this effort. A piece in Politico Magazine looks at the phenomenon.  Here are excerpts:

[I]f you want to take the pulse of white middle America, go to its de facto national capital — Macomb County, Michigan.

It’s been this way since the mid-1980s, when a Yale-based academic and pollster named Stanley Greenberg turned his attention from studying the interplay of class and race in apartheid South Africa to try and explain what was happening in Macomb. In 1960, it was the most heavily Democratic suburban county in the United States. By 1984, it was landslide territory for Ronald Reagan. The population was overwhelmingly white and thoroughly middle class, largely living in tract homes and driving their cars to industrial jobs throughout metro Detroit. They were, by all appearances, Democrats. But they weren’t voting like it. Why not?

After convening a series of focus groups, Greenberg coined a term for these voters — “Reagan Democrats” — and a theory of the case. In these voters’ eyes, “the leaders who were supposed to fight for them seemed to care more about the blacks in Detroit and the protesters on campus; they seemed to care more about equal rights and abortion than about mortgage payments and crime,” Greenberg later wrote. “The old politics has failed them. What they really want is a new political contract — and the freedom to dream the American dream again.” Macomb, he said, “is the site of an historic upheaval that has wrecked the old and promises a new volatile kind of politics.”

For four decades now, that historic upheaval and the quest for the support of “Reagan Democrats” has defined American politics, from the rise of Bill Clinton’s “New Democrats” — which Greenberg, as Clinton’s pollster, had a central role in crafting — to George W. Bush’s “compassionate conservatism,” to Barack Obama’s poll-tested evisceration of Mitt Romney’s venture capital experience, to Donald Trump’s white-grievance mongering and tirades against NAFTA. After Obama won Macomb in 2008 and 2012, Trump captured it in both 2016 and 2020.

Then something important happened: In leaning too hard into white identity politics — and perhaps being too focused on what he thought Reagan Democrats wanted — Trump accelerated the rise of a new voting bloc that is, in many ways, the mirror image of the Reagan Democrats.

Call them the Biden Republicans.

Like the Reagan Democrats, they’re heavily white and live in suburbs. But where the Reagan Dems are blue-collar and culturally conservative, Greenberg sees the Biden Republicans as more affluent, highly educated and supportive of diversity. Historically, they identified with the Republican Party as their political home. But the leaders who were supposed to fight for them seem to care more about white grievance and keeping out immigrants; seem to care more about social issues and “owning the libs” than about childcare payments and college tuition. They don’t consider themselves Democrats — at least not yet — but they are voting for them, delivering them majorities in the House and Senate, and making Joe Biden just the fourth candidate in the last century to defeat an incumbent president.

Now, with the support of Biden Republicans shored up — at least for the time being — Joe Biden is embarking on an audacious gambit that’s gone largely unnoticed, but, if successful, could kneecap national Republicans for a decade: Recapturing the support of the Reagan Democrats.

“Biden is very self-consciously campaigning for Macomb County-type, white working-class voters [for whom] race is not the only thing driving their vote, but who went to Trump [in 2016] because of globalization and their belief that Democrats are not fighting for American workers,” says Greenberg

And that puts Republicans in a strategically difficult position. . . . . In both 2016 and 2020, Trump brought in new voters — people animated by “white nationalism and racial resentment, and whose overwhelming motivation is a deep worry that Black people and immigrants will control the country,” and who are “voting straight-ticket [Republican] to ‘save the country,’” says Greenberg. But by courting those votes, Republicans risk pushing the Biden Republicans further into the Democratic ledger.

“Trump voters, a large portion of them, want a welfare state that is dependable for working people,” says Greenberg. And Biden’s proposed $1.9 trillion Covid relief package could make a tangible difference in their lives. Do the Reagan Democrats stick with non-Trump Republicans if Biden’s Democrats deliver reopened schools, a strong economy, a huge investment in infrastructure and a $3,600-per-child benefit to families on top of a $1,400 stimulus check?

For Republicans, Greenberg sees a reality not unlike the one Democrats faced when he first decamped to Macomb County: “They are going to have to lose a few elections before there can be a new dynamic within the Republican Party — just as the Democrats lost a lot of national elections before Bill Clinton was able to change the party.”

I’m actually stunned by how much consensus there is around using the government to really deliver for people. I think the Biden administration buys that. The gap between the progressive wing and the Biden wing—if that is a wing—is small. You look at the relief package, and there’s like one piece they’re arguing about. But if you look at what they’re agreeing on, introducing a child benefit—not just child care, but also a child benefit, which is more of a European kind of safety net—combined with a great expansion on health care, I think you’re dealing with a big change.

Right now, everyone thinks that government needs to deliver in a big way. I think that scares Republicans. And it will be interesting to see. People are going to see real benefits, not just the $2,000 stimulus piece, but something more enduring. If you look at the proposed $3,600 per child; that’s delivered [in installments] monthly into people’s checking accounts. That not only reduces child poverty; it’s virtually every middle-class person that we are talking about.

Friday, March 05, 2021

Friday Morning Male Beauty


Biden Shows the World that U.S. Government Can Work

I am still recovering from four years of a presidential administration filled with grifters and incompetent sycophants lead by a boorish, racist demagogue  on a mission to destroy the federal government and weaken America so as to further the interest of Vladimir Putin's Russia.  I feel like I have escaped an abusive relationship and still can't quite grasp that normalcy and decency are back in control at the White House.  I suspect many Americans - and many residents of American allied countries abused by the Trump regime - share the feeling. With Joe Biden in the White House not only are we spared from the diarrhea of the mouth that defined the Trump era but are also seeing once again that the U.S. government can function and provide essential services and guidance to the American public and the world. Stated another way, America is no longer the laughing stock of the world lead by a racist buffoon. Moreover, the Biden administration is showing that there are some things that only thr government can do, contrary to Republican dogma. An editorial in the Washington Post looks at this welcome new reality.  Here are excerpts:

The Biden presidency is still in its early days, but it is not too soon to point to its most impressive accomplishment, one that will have major implications for years to come. The covid-19 vaccination program has been transformed. The federal government has established or expanded more than 450 vaccination centers, and the country is carrying out 2 million vaccinations per day, more than double the rate when President Biden was inaugurated. The president says he has secured enough supply to vaccinate the entire adult population in the next three months, well ahead of every major country except Britain.

The Trump administration deserves credit for Operation Warp Speed, the program that helped to fund the vaccines, and the private sector deserves credit for the miraculous speed and effectiveness with which it developed the vaccines. But, for the most part, President Donald Trump left the rollout to the states. Last March, Ron Klain, now Biden’s chief of staff, observed that the Trump administration was approaching the pandemic, a massive national crisis, as if the country were still living “under the Articles of Confederation.”

Trump did this for two reasons. First, it was clear the pandemic was going to create big problems, and he didn’t want to bear responsibility for them. . . . . Second, Republicans have for years denigrated the federal government, arguing that it was incompetent and dysfunctional, that Washington was corrupt and that the private sector could handle everything better.

Biden came into office intent on reversing Trump’s approach. He owned the crisis, releasing a 200-page national strategy that outlined, for example, exactly how the government would use its powers and resources to ramp up vaccinations. That included ordering millions more vaccines; using the Defense Production Act to ensure that additional production could happen fast; enlisting the armed forces, National Guard, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other agencies to support vaccination sites; and shipping vaccines directly to pharmacies, thus creating another network of vaccination centers across the country.

Government is hard. American government is harder still. It’s a political system designed to prevent tyranny, not facilitate speedy action. Power is checked, divided and shared. Making it work takes energy, ingenuity and, above all, a belief in government. Biden clearly learned from his experience running the stimulus program as President Barack Obama’s vice president. Klain, who coordinated the response to Ebola in 2014-2015, is impressively focused on execution. Biden’s covid-19 coordinator, Jeffrey Zients, is a talented executive who has excelled in the private and public sectors.

The contrast with Trump is easy to draw, because Trump didn’t really view his job as diligently administering the federal bureaucracy. For him, the presidency was a reality television show and politics was a series of symbolic acts. But there is a broader view of the federal government that grew out of the Vietnam War, Watergate and some of the excesses of the Great Society programs, one that President Ronald Reagan gave voice to when he said in his first inaugural address, “Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”

Biden can show us that Reagan was wrong. It was the American government that put a man on the moon and created the Internet. And in today’s world, there are crucial challenges that only government, well led and administered, can solve.

Thursday, March 04, 2021

Thursday Morning Male Beauty

 I had such a crush on him.

U. S. House Passes Landmark Voting Rights Expansion

Republicans have a problem: their base is shrinking - literally dying off - and while they claim to be the party of working class Americans, the actual policies they push give little benefit to working class Americans.  All they have to offer in reality is pandering to white grievance and bigotry as well as right wing Christian extremism.  As a column in the Washington Post sums it up this way:   

One of the poisonous legacies of Donald Trump’s presidency has been to expand the boundaries of expressible prejudice. Through the explicit practice of White-identity politics, Trump has obviated the need for code words and dog whistles. Thus his strongest supporters during the Jan. 6 riot felt free to carry Confederate battle flags and wear “Camp Auschwitz” sweatshirts without fear of reproof from their political allies. Many in the crowd surely didn’t consider themselves racists, but they were perfectly willing to make common cause with racists. In social effect, it is a distinction without a difference.

The party has been swiftly repositioned as an instrument of white grievance. It refuses to condemn racists within its congressional ranks. Its main national legislative agenda seems to be the suppression of minority voting. Trumpism is defined by the belief that real Americans are beset by internal threats from migrants, Muslims, multiculturalists, Black Lives Matter activists, antifa militants and various thugs, gangbangers and whiners. . . . The whole Trump movement, and now most of the Republican Party, is premised on the social sanctification of pre-cognitive fears and disgust.

Yet the largest single group within the new GOP coalition is comprised of people who claim to be evangelical Christians. And the view of human beings implied by Trumpism is a direct negation of Christian teaching (as well as many other systems of belief).

Yet this agenda is failing to be a winning strategy with more and more Americans even in red states where urban areas are growing and trending Democrat.  The GOP response has been to seek to disenfranchise as many minority and younger voters as possible in states where Republicans control the state legislatures through "voter ID" laws, restrictions on voting opportunities and blatant gerrymandering. To counter these anti-democratic efforts the House of Representatives has passed sweeping legislation that would thwart the GOP effort to disenfranchise Americans.  A piece in the New York Times looks at the bill and the GOP effort to kill it in the Senate that we will soon witness.  Here are highlights: 

House Democrats pushed through a sweeping expansion of federal voting rights on Wednesday over unified Republican opposition, opening a new front in a raging national debate about elections aimed at countering G.O.P. attempts to clamp down on ballot access.

The bill, adopted 220 to 210 mostly along party lines, would constitute the most significant enhancement of federal voting protections since the 1960s if it became law. It aims to impose new national requirements weakening restrictive state voter ID laws, mandate automatic voter registration, expand early and mail-in voting, make it harder to purge voter rolls and restore voting rights to former felons — changes that studies suggest would increase voter participation, especially by racial minorities.

The vote was the latest bid by Democrats to beat back Republican efforts in statehouses across the country to enact new barriers to voting that would consolidate power for the Republican Party amid false claims of rampant election fraud . . . .

But the measure, which is supported by President Biden, appears to be doomed for now in the Senate, where Republican opposition would make it all but impossible to draw the 60 votes needed to advance. Democratic leaders have vowed to put it up for a vote anyway, and progressives were already plotting to use Republican obstruction of the bill to build their case for jettisoning the legislative filibuster in the months ahead.

“Everything is at stake. We must win this race, this fight,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California, said as Democrats rallied on the Capitol steps before the vote. “At the same time as we are gathering here to honor our democracy, across the country over 200 bills are being put together, provisions are being put forward to suppress the vote.”

The 791-page bill, designated H.R. 1 by Democrats to reflect its importance to their agenda, would also eliminate partisan gerrymandering, impose new transparency on dark money used to finance campaigns, tighten government ethics standards and create a public financing option for congressional campaigns.

While Congress has worked for decades to expand access to the ballot, often with bipartisan support, the issue has become a sharply partisan one in recent years, as shifting demographics and political coalitions have led Republicans to conclude that they benefit from lower voter participation rates, particularly around cities.

“You can win on the basis of your ideas and the programs you put forward, which is what we choose to do,” said Representative John Sarbanes, Democrat of Maryland and a leading author of the bill. “Or you can try to win by suppressing the vote, drawing unfair districts across the country and using big money to spread disinformation.”

While they [Republicans] did not outright argue for making it harder to vote, they said that states — not the federal government — were best positioned to determine how to conduct their elections with integrity, and that the bill would lead to rampant fraud benefiting liberal candidates.

Study after study, including by Mr. Trump’s own Justice Department, has concluded no widespread fraud exists.

States under conservative control have succeeded in recent years in imposing new strictures that studies suggest disproportionately affect Black voters and those living in urban areas. Proponents argue that the steps are necessary to combat potential election fraud. But the effort has been turbocharged in some places since Mr. Trump’s loss in November, with states racing to strengthen voter ID laws, to make it harder to vote by mail or vote early, and to limit the role outside groups can play in helping Americans vote.

All told, state lawmakers have introduced more than 250 bills in 43 states that would tighten voting rules, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University. The most prominent may be Georgia, where Republican leaders reeling from Democrats’ unexpected statewide victories have unabashedly sought to clamp down on ballot access by advancing sharp limits to voting by mail and early voting on Sundays, when many Black voters cast ballots after church services.

H.R. 1’s voting provisions were originally drafted by Representative John Lewis, the Georgia Democrat and civil rights icon who died last year.

If the bill were to become law, states would be required to automatically register eligible voters, hold at least 15 consecutive days of early voting for federal elections and provide drop boxes for absentee ballots like the ones Mr. Trump falsely claimed led to fraud. It would make it far easier to vote by mail and far harder to purge voters from the rolls.

The legislation also targets partisan gerrymandering of House seats, requiring states to use independent commissions to draw districts based on apolitical metrics rather than ones that would maximize the influence of one party over another. Both parties gerrymander, but the practice has benefited Republicans more over the past decade. With new districts set to be drawn this fall, Republicans are expected to make even greater gains.

The challenge for Democrats is moving any of the bills through a 50-50 Senate, where 10 Republicans would have to vote yes. Under Mr. Trump’s leadership, the Republican Party adopted increasingly hard-line tactics on voting and other government overhaul initiatives, rallying around his winner-take-all political style and the outright lies on which he based his attempt to overturn his election loss.

Wednesday, March 03, 2021

Wednesday Morning Male Beauty


FBI Director: January 6th Was Domestic Terrorism

FBI Director Christopher Wray testified before Congress about the January 6th insurrection at the U.S. Capitol and exploded a number of lies being pushed by Republicans at all levels and, of course, the right wing "news outlets" which are now little more than propaganda machines for Trump and lunatics of the far right.  First he debunked the GOP lie that Antifa was involved in the insurrection.  Second, he called the event for what it was: domestic terrorism.  The hearing was part of an effort to lay out how and why security at the Capitol failed so miserably and allowed the sacking of the Capitol in an effort to intimidate lawmakers and to thwart a valid election.  Sadly, to date Proud Boys and Oath Keepers have not yet been legally designated as domestic terrorist organization, but as more evidence of coordination of the attack on the Capitol by members of those groups this will change.  Wray's testimony also pointed to a reprise of the 9-11 situation where different agencies failed to properly consider information about the coming war like attack.  Politico looks at Wray's testimony:

FBI Director Christopher Wray said on Tuesday that the Jan. 6 insurrection has been “an inspiration to a number of terrorist extremists” — foreign and domestic — and that the bureau is still eyeing whether any foreign actors might seek to infiltrate domestic groups to exploit vulnerabilities.

Wray also said he considers the siege “domestic terrorism” and is deploying intensive resources in every field office to pursue perpetrators.

Wray's public comments are his first since the assault on the Capitol, and they come nearly two months after thousands of Donald Trump supporters stormed the building — and hundreds breached the interior — in an effort to stop lawmakers from certifying the results of the 2020 election.

Wray declined to disclose the cause of death of Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick, who died following the insurrection, and he evaded saying whether a cause of death had been determined. Authorities have been pursuing a suspect seen in riot footage spraying officers, including Sicknick, with a chemical agent. Wray said the matter is still under investigation.

He also said there is “no evidence” that antifa played any role in the Jan. 6 events, despite Trump allies increasingly using that claim as a talking point.

Wray has faced calls for weeks to address the attack, but he remained largely out of view while FBI investigators initiated a sweeping nationwide manhunt to track down and arrest the rioters. Of the more than 300 arrests, alleged offenses range from trespassing and obstructing Congress to conspiracy and assaulting police officers. At least five people, including Sicknick, died as a result of the insurrection.

The effort has also uncovered increasingly dark and well-coordinated plans by Trump-supporting extremist paramilitary groups, including the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers, dozens of whom descended on Washington and participated in the siege.

Officials in charge of Capitol security have indicated that an FBI warning about the "war"-like posture of the groups gathering in Washington on Jan. 6 failed to reach senior levels and was not sufficiently vetted. 

Wray said that the FBI’s Norfolk field office prepared a “situational” report of “raw, unverified, uncorroborated” information that had been culled from material posted online. That material was shared quickly with law enforcement partners. Capitol Police and Washington DC Metropolitan police indicated in earlier hearings that they didn’t view the material as particularly urgent because it was unconfirmed.

Wray said the info was communicated in multiple ways, including electronically and verbally, "as quickly as possible." He said it was disseminated "consistent with our normal process."

 It is far past time that "militia" groups be considered terrorist organizations and steps be taken to shut them down and place their leadership behind bars.  As for Republicans, they need to stop aiding and abetting domestic terrorists, including Der Trumpenfuhrer.

Tuesday, March 02, 2021

More Tuesday Male Beauty


Republicans Are Taking a Sledgehammer to Voting Rights

Donald Trump may no longer occupy the White House, but the lies - especially the "Big Lire" that the 2020 election was stolen from him - and racial hatred that were his stock in trade continue to threaten America's democracy.   Frighteningly, despite no evidence and Trump's 60+ court case losses, nearly three quarters of Republicans believe that election fraud is rampant and appear only too willing to back GOP bills being introduced in state legislatures across the country that seek to restrict voting rights, especially for minority voters (although as a piece at CNN notes, the disenfranchisement of younger voters is also part of the GOP voter suppression agenda).  Democrats need to strongly resist Republicans' efforts to make up for their shrinking base by disenfranchising key portion of the Democrat  base.  Pending federal legislation could thwart the GOP effort  but to get it through the U.S. Senate, Democrats may need to end the filibuster, a hold over from the Jim Crow era that benefitted pro-segregation Democrats of that time.  A piece in Vanity Fair looks at the anti-democratic Republican effort.,  Here are excerpts:

Donald Trump’s power grab may have failed, but it’s possible that democracy is now under even greater threat than it was before January 20. The transparent and ludicrous lies that Trump told, over and over, in his desperate campaign to overturn his loss to Joe Biden have now ossified into the official party line, with Republicans across the country attempting—in some cases successfully—to translate the MAGA propaganda into actual laws. The GOP has now put forth bills in 43 states that would dramatically restrict access to the ballot, according to a Brennan Center analysis; in places like Georgia, with Republican-controlled state governments, anti-democracy lawmakers are succeeding. And on Tuesday, the franchise will face perhaps its biggest test in decades when the conservative Supreme Court considers a pair of Arizona laws that could open the floodgates for even more racist voting restrictions.

Democrats, who have lost just one presidential popular vote since 1988 and represent far more Americans on Capitol Hill than their counterparts, are not powerless to protect democracy against attacks by a Republican party that has increasingly embraced Trumpian authoritarianism. They’ve introduced hundreds of their own bills in state legislatures seeking to expand the franchise, and are mobilizing behind a House bill that seeks to knock down barriers to the ballot. But the success or failure of these efforts will almost certainly depend on whether or not Democratic leaders, from the White House on down, fight for Americans’ rights with the same urgency that Trump and the Republicans are fighting to take them away. “Republicans have made opposing voting rights the central tenet of their party,” . . . .

Suppressing the votes of Black Americans and other minorities has long been a key part of the GOP’s election strategy. But their efforts have been even more audacious, bald-faced, and undemocratic in recent months: In swing states where Trump sought to overturn his narrow losses, Republican legislators are using his lies as a pretext for “election security” bills targeting mail-in voting and other measures that expand access to the ballot. In Wisconsin, the GOP has put forth a package that would force voters to show an ID, limit absentee balloting, and that could dampen early voting. Similar legislation is being considered in Pennsylvania. Democratic governors in those states mean the sweeping overhauls proposed by Republican-controlled legislatures probably won’t go far—for now, at least. But things are more concerning in Georgia, where the state House on Monday passed a massive, multi-pronged package of voting restrictions—including one measure scaling back Sunday voting, a direct attack on the “Souls to the Polls” initiative to increase Black turnout.

The GOP’s suppression efforts have always targeted minorities—particularly the Black voters who make up the core of the Democratic base. But under Trump, a man utterly incapable of subtlety, the party has all but done away with pretense. “What I think was really obvious and really upsetting about the 2020 election,” the Brennan Center’s Myrna Perez told NPR last week, “was that there was very little attempt to hide the racialized nature.”

The For the People Act, introduced by Maryland Democrat John Sarbanes, includes a number of anti-corruption reforms, and would expand access to the franchise and restore the Voting Rights Act. The White House has endorsed it, citing the “unprecedented assault on our democracy, a never before seen effort to ignore, undermine, and undo the will of the people, and a newly aggressive attack on voting rights taking place right now all across the country,” and the Democratically-controlled House is poised to pass it. But the bill will run into a buzzsaw in the Senate, where Mitch McConnell and the Republicans are almost certain to filibuster the measure.

Biden is reluctant to end that filibuster. But at a certain point, failing to do so means failing to reckon with the the severity of the threat to democracy—and the particular peril the GOP’s attacks pose to the rights of Black Americans and other minorities. “The argument that preserving the filibuster is necessary because it’s an important tool in our Democracy falls apart when it’s clearer with every passing day that we won’t have a Democracy without Congress passing voting rights legislation,” the former Obama aide David Plouffe remarked Monday. Republicans are mounting a concerted, relentless attack on democracy. To defend against it, Democrats’ response must be proportional. And that means confronting the reality that Trump leaving office didn’t extinguish his Big Lie, but made it more powerful.

Tuesday Morning Male Beauty


Andy Towle Leaves

I have been writing this blog in earnest since early 2007, just shy of 14 years ago.  Along the way - especially thanks to the 2008 LGBT Blogger Summit in Washington D.C., sponsored by Microsoft and Progressive Insurance - I have had the privilege of connecting with many amazing LGBT bloggers across the country and even in other parts of the world.  For a number of years I was a contributor to The Bilerico Project (now part of LGBTQ Nation), once described by the Washington Post as the LGBT version of the Huffington Post.  One such blogger and and inspiration is Andy Towle of Towleroad. After 18 years at it, Andy has announced that he is leaving the blog that carries his name.  Much has changed over that time period yet LGBT citizens in many parts of America and the world still struggle for full civil rights and fight regular discrimination.  In a piece at his blog, Andy looks at what prompted the launching of his blog, looks at the connections made, and why he is moving on.   I don't see myself ready to hang up blogging at the moment, but readers need to know that it is part labor of love and part therapy session at times.  Here are excerpts from Andy's "good bye" piece:

Longtime readers and friends, we’ve come a great distance together. But after nearly 18 years scouring the web for LGBTQ news and bringing it to you on a daily basis, this has been my last week at Towleroad.

It’s been a thrilling experience, and a lot of hard, rewarding work. Towleroad is one of the few independently published LGBTQ news sites left. We’ve survived in a very tough environment by running a tight ship and sticking to our voice and our mission, which has been to bring you a variety of different types of news, both serious and completely silly, with a commitment to truth and honesty. I hope that it has informed you over the years, helped create some positive change in the world, and maybe given someone a laugh or a smile and inspired them to be themselves.

Back in those very early days there were a few independent gay voices doing blogs (notably Andrew Sullivan) but no online clearing houses for LGBTQ information, and it was thrilling to be able to interact with an audience in an exciting and fresh format and I’m grateful to have been in the right place at the right time to do so.

It was a collaborative time in “new media” and I soon found myself among a sea of exciting voices which shared links, inspiration, common cause, and creative ideas, like Pam Spaulding’s ‘Pam’s House Blend’, Joe Jervis’s JoeMyGod, Michael K’s Dlisted, OMGblog, Bil Browning’s The Bilerico Project, Michelangelo Signorile’s The Signorile Report, Keith Boykin, Jeremy Hooper’s Good As You, Rex Wockner, John Aravosis’ AmericaBlog, Chris Johnson and Michael Lavers at the Washington Blade, Jim Burroway and Timothy Kincaid’s Box Turtle Bulletin, Paul Schindler at Gay City News, Rod 2.0, Shakesville, The New Civil Rights Movement, Andres Duques’ Blabbeando, Trent Vanegas’s Pink is the New Blog, Just Jared, Mike Rogers’ BlogActive, Kenneth Walsh’s Kenneth in the 212, Matt Rettenmund’s Boy Culture, Queerty, Alvin McEwen’s ‘Holy Bullies and Headless Monsters’, Greg Hernandez’s Greg in Hollywood, Wayne Besen’s Truth Wins Out, Dan Savage’s Slog, the late Monica Roberts’ TransGriot, Juliano Corbetta’s Made In Brazil, Back2Stonewall, Perez Hilton, Socialite Life, NewNowNext, AfterEllen, AfterElton, Autostraddle and many others. I apologize if I’ve forgotten anyone. By virtue of our formats and audiences, at many times we were able to manifestly affect justice together in so many ways. I would like to thank them all for their support and kindness over the years.

I’ve been gratified to see the tide of public opinion and acceptance of LGBTQ people shift in vast ways. When I launched this experiment George W. Bush was president, and nobody knew what a “blog” was. There were no hate crime protections for LGBTQ people, the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy was still in place, and gay and lesbian people couldn’t get married anywhere in the United States. There was no YouTube, no Twitter, no Facebook, no Instagram, and no iPhone!

There’s no one reason I’ve decided it’s time for a change. When you do something for nearly two decades you start to wonder if there’s anything else for you out there. And when there’s a global pandemic and you’re stuck in isolation for a year obsessively absorbing the actions of a fascist in charge of the country you start pondering those ‘life’ questions even more. 

So what do I plan to do? I don’t know right now, but I do have a few ideas. I want to get back to creating things. I want to see what else is out there for me. I want to take a deep breath and finally maybe have a weekend off.

So many readers and commenters have offered their words of support over the years and I’m grateful for your lasting readership, and also the criticism. I have tried to learn from it.

I’d also like to thank the many writers and contributors I’ve worked with closely, including Bobby Hankinson, Sean Mandell, Kyler Geoffrey, David Mixner, Corey Johnson, Ari Ezra Waldman, Naveen Kumar, Randy Rainbow, Nathaniel Rogers, Kevin Sessums, Craig Karpel, Ari Karpel, Adam Rhodes, Andrew Belonsky, Lisa Keen, Ed Salvato, Billy Kolber, Anthony Costello, Brandon Thorp and Penn Bullock, Jon Barrett, Josh Helmin, Josh Koll, Brian Sloan, Charles Pulliam-Moore, Christian Walters, Daniel Villareal, Susie Bright, Jon Bailiff, Garth Greenwell, Jake Folsom, John Wright, Josh Trujillo, Julian Ward, Kenneth Walsh, Lewis Payton, Luis Damian Veron, Leo Herrera, Matthew Rettenmund, Muri Assuncao, Nathan Manske, Occupy the Disco’s Ru Bhatt, Josh Appelbaum and Tadeu Maghales, RJ Aguiar, Sam Greisman, Savas Abadsidis, and Steve Pepdjonovic. Again, apologies if I’ve forgotten anyone.

Keep in touch.

Slowly, many of the bloggers and platforms from the Blogger Summit are ceasing to blog although remaining active in advocacy and calling out bigots and hypocrites. I am so thankful for those with whom I was lucky enough to interact over the years.  Best of luck Andy!!

Monday, March 01, 2021

Monday Morning Male Beauty


Virginia Legalizes Marijuana

In a move long over due - especially from a racial justice perspective - Virginia became the 16th state to legalize marijuana,  For far too long, Virginia's arcane marijuana laws were used to criminalize blacks, especially young black males, as a way to suppress the black vote even as Republican lawmakers whined that the victims of their policies failed to be gainfully employed.  Never mind that criminal convictions made finding employment far more difficult.  Tellingly, the bill that passed legalization failed to garner a single Republican vote.   The bloviating about concerns of underage users and driving under the influence were merely a GOP smoke screen for the true Republican agenda.  Possession will not be legal until 2024 - the governor who we saw yesterday wanted it effective in 2023 - and a regulatory system will need to be created during the interim. Fortunately, possession was decriminalized last year.   A piece in Politico looks at this welcomed development.  Here are highlights:

The Virginia Legislature approved adult-use marijuana legalization Saturday in a historic vote marking the first state in the Old South to embrace full legalization.

The House passed the measure in a 48-43 vote, and the Senate approved it in a 20-19 vote. Not a single Republican voted for the bill in either chamber.

"This, to me, is a justice bill," Del. Charniele Herring, a sponsor of the legalization bill and the Democratic majority leader, said on the floor. "While it has flaws and it is not the perfect bill ... I think this moves us a step in the right direction."

The vote came after a conference committee struck a deal on Saturday to reconcile different versions of the bill that passed in both chambers earlier this month.

The impact: Virginia is the 16th U.S. state to pass an adult-use marijuana legalization law, though sales would not start until 2024. Only two other states — Illinois and Vermont — have passed legislation to legalize, tax and regulate recreational marijuana through the legislature.

The move puts pressure on neighboring states such as Maryland, where an adult-use legalization bill got its first hearing this month. New Jersey also recently enacted legalization, after voters overwhelmingly backed a referendum in November.

Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam has championed legalization as a racial justice issue.

Under the compromise legislation, marijuana possession would not become legal until January 2024, when regulated sales are scheduled to start. The state would start setting up a marijuana regulatory agency this July.

The background: The state decriminalized marijuana last year during a special session to address criminal justice reform. Virginia’s medical marijuana program is just getting off the ground, and lawmakers passed a bill this session that would expand the program to allow marijuana flower products.

Northam endorsed legalization in November and urged lawmakers to pass his proposal during his state of the state address. The legislation was based on two extensive studies on the issue: a report from his administration and another from the nonpartisan Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee.

The bills moved quickly through the chambers during a short, 30-day session, which Northam extended with a special session of 16 days. Lawmakers tackled thorny issues such as how to prevent large corporations from taking over the marijuana market, and how to handle automatic expungements of marijuana offenses when the criminal justice system lacks the technology to do so.

Opponents of marijuana legalization pointed to public health concerns such as youth use and impaired driving, as well as tobacco giant Altria’s lobbying on the issue. Altria purchased a $1.8 billion stake in Canadian cannabis company Cronos Group in 2018.

Marijuana advocates pointed to the harms of the disproportionate enforcement of marijuana offenses in communities of color. The bill contains robust social equity provisions, including prioritizing business licenses for individuals deemed to have been disproportionately impacted by criminal enforcement, which dissuaded some otherwise supportive Republicans from voting for the bill.

The bill would allow adults over 21 to possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana. Home cultivation of up to four plants per household would be allowed under the bill.

The bill sets a 21 percent excise tax on marijuana and allows municipalities to add an additional 3 percent tax on retailers on top of existing sales taxes. Marijuana tax revenues would be used to fund pre-K education, substance use disorder treatment programs and other public health initiatives. A portion of revenues would also go toward a Cannabis Equity Reinvestment Fund, which would provide resources such as scholarships and workforce development for communities disproportionately impacted by drug enforcement.

Vertical integration would be allowed in limited circumstances to grandfather in medical cannabis producers and industrial hemp processors. Micro-businesses would be allowed to vertically integrate as well.