Saturday, March 13, 2021

More Saturday Male Beauty


The Republican Renewed War on Voting Rights

Having lost the 2020 presidential election and then two Senate races in Georgia, Republicans across the country are introducing bills to make voting much more difficult, especially for minorities and younger voters who they view as likely to vote Democrat.  This aversion to democracy is nothing new, although after years of being less blatant about the GOP's hostility to voting rights, the hostility towards minority voters is in full view.  Simply put, the GOP only wants certain people to be able to vote: whites only, if possible.  A piece in New York Magazine looks at the candor of some Republicans (see the image of Representative John Kavanagh above) in wanting to limit voting by "those people" so as to tilt election results toward the GOP which increasingly cannot win elections based on the party platform and policies that benefit the wealthy while throwing scraps to poor whites duped into voting against their own economic interests by GOP calls to racism and right wing Christian religious extremism.  The piece also lays out with clarity the fact that conservatives/Republicans have never been fans of democracy.  Here are article excerpts: 

Representative John Kavanagh, a Republican legislator who chairs Arizona’s Government and Elections Committee and is shepherding through a bill to make voting more cumbersome and therefore rare, described his party’s motives with blundering candor.

“There’s a fundamental difference between Democrats and Republicans,” he told CNN. “Democrats value as many people as possible voting, and they’re willing to risk fraud. Republicans are more concerned about fraud, so we don’t mind putting security measures in that won’t let everybody vote — but everybody shouldn’t be voting … Not everybody wants to vote, and if somebody is uninterested in voting, that probably means that they’re totally uninformed on the issues. Quantity is important, but we have to look at the quality of votes, as well.”

If I had to guess, his argument is something he’s picked up from reading conservative media, and he never realized his role as elected official makes it unwise to repeat — especially on-camera.

Donald Trump’s presidency, with its continuous demands to silence his opposition and efforts to undermine the election, highlighted his party’s anti-democratic character. But hostility to democracy is a long tradition on the right, including (perhaps especially) in its loftiest highbrow quarters.

Respectable conservative organs like National Review not only supported segregation and opposed civil rights, but also opposed laws to safeguard voting rights. The NR formula on voting rights has always combined several classic elements. First, there are usually some arch, snobbish gibes at right-wing populist demagogues, who are crass and beneath the dignity of the deserving elites at National Review. Second, the dismissal of rank bigotry is set against a “frank” concession that most Black people do not actually deserve the franchise because they are, like the poor whites who support the demagogues, too ignorant to exercise their vote wisely. And third, it declares states’ rights to be the paramount consideration, so that ultimately no federal solution can be imposed, however troubling the abuses of the state-level authorities.

In 1965, James J. Kilpatrick’s National Review cover story dismissed the need for a Voting Rights Act. Yes, Kilpatrick conceded, white Southerns had mistreated Black people. (“No reasonable man would deny that in times past, the South has sinned against the Negro; here and there, in times present, the abuse continues.”) However, the fact remained, “Over most of this century, the great bulk of Southern Negroes have been genuinely unqualified for the franchise. 

A 1966 column by Buckley began with some mockery of Alabama governor George Wallace. But Buckley proceeded to his main point. “For some reason it has been hailed as a triumph of democratic justice that so many Negroes succeeding in voting last week,” he sneered, mocking the absurdity of illiterate Black Alabamans being permitted to vote. Weighing the competing absurdities of the two “evils” — Wallace’s buffoonery, or Black people voting despite having been denied an education by their state — he concluded “the latter” was worse. 

After the 1960s, most mainstream conservatives abandoned their defense of de jure segregation in the South, and two decades later had to abandon their defense of the same system in South Africa. But the idea that voting rights ought to be restricted remains a staple of conservative thought to this day. The chilly reception National Review and other right-wing elites afforded Trump was in keeping with their traditional contempt for demagoguery. But the danger they identified in him was not that he threatened democracy, but seemed in their mind to embody it. “We must weed out ignorant Americans from the electorate,” insisted David Harsanyi in 2016. 

Conservatives are hysterical in opposition to proposals in Congress to guarantee voting access and limit gerrymandering. National Review calls H.R. 1, the main House bill to promote election reform, “a partisan assault on American democracy.” But NR should be more honest in its criticism: Democracy is not what it wants at all, and never has been.

Saturday Morning Male Beauty


Democrats’ New Child Benefit is a Very Big Deal.

One of the most shocking and embarrassing things about America - which touts itself as the world's super power and where politicians bloviate about "American exceptionalism - is the child poverty rate.  Despite its overall wealth, for decades across the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which is made up of 37 countries including Denmark, New Zealand, Spain, and the United Kingdom, the United States is consistently ranked as one of the worst in child poverty rates. The covid-19 pandemic has made matters worse and as Center for American Progress reports as follows:

Since April 2020, the share of children with at least one unemployed parent has consistently remained above reported rates during the peak of the Great Recession. More than 4 in 10 children live in a household struggling to meet basic expenses, and between 7 million and 11 million children live in households in which they are unable to eat enough because of the cost.

America's exceptional alright, and not in a good way.  Worse yet, the agenda of the far right over the last 40 years made matters worse as benefits for poor families with children shrunk.  One of the worse things about poverty is that it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy in that low income children often receive an inferior education since schools often reflect the wealth or lack thereof of the neighborhoods in which they are located and often have to go to work early in life and/or forego college to work to support their families.  Some escape this cycle such as my father who spent 13 years in an orphanage founded by Alexander Hamilton's widow and then had the GI Bill to put him through college after WWI (in contrast my mother grew up in a British Raj like setting, the daughter of a top hospital administrator and surgeon in Central America), but far too many do not.

Now, with the passage of the Covid-19 relief bill and a change in the approach to poor children, things will hopefully improve for millions of children as the USA embarks on a more European approach to support for children.  A piece in the New York Times looks at this much needed change in policy.  Here are highlights:

The era of “the era of big government is over” is over. The relief bill President Biden just signed is breathtaking in its scope. Yet conservative opposition was remarkably limp. While not a single Republican voted for the legislation, the rhetorical onslaught from right-wing politicians and media was notably low energy, perhaps because the Biden plan is incredibly popular. Even as Democrats moved to disburse $1.9 trillion in government aid, their opponents mainly seemed to be talking about Dr. Seuss and Mr. Potato Head.

What makes this lack of energy especially striking is that the American Rescue Plan doesn’t just spend a lot of money. It also embodies some big changes in the philosophy of public policy, a turn away from the conservative ideology that has dominated U.S. politics for four decades.

[T]he legislation, in addition to reviving the notion of government as the solution, not the problem, also ends the “end of welfare as we know it.”

Once upon a time there was a program called Aid to Families With Dependent Children — the program people usually had in mind when they talked about “welfare.” It was originally intended to support white widows while they raised their children, and it was effectively denied to both Black and unwed mothers. Over time, however, these restrictions were eroded, and the program rapidly expanded from the early 1960s to the early 1970s.

The program also became hugely unpopular. In part, of course, this reflected the race of many beneficiaries. But many commentators also blamed A.F.D.C. for creating a culture of dependency that was in turn responsible for the growing social ills of inner cities, although later scholarship, notably the work of William Julius Wilson, suggested that the real cause of these ills was the disappearance of urban jobs. (The social problems that have followed economic decline in much of the American heartland seem to confirm Wilson’s thesis.)

In any case, in 1996 Bill Clinton enacted reforms that both drastically reduced aid to the poor and imposed draconian work requirements, even on single mothers. Welfare as we knew it really did end.

But the American Rescue Plan Act, closely following proposals from Senator Michael Bennet, reinstates significant aid for children. Moreover, unlike most of the act’s provisions, this change (like enhanced Obamacare subsidies) is intended to outlast the current crisis; Democrats hope and expect that substantial payments to families with children will become a permanent part of the American scene.

In 1970, an A.F.D.C. family of three received about 25 percent of median income for three-person families — hardly a generous allowance, but maybe, just, enough to live on. The new legislation will give a single parent of two children less than 7 percent of median income.

On the other hand, the new program will be far less intrusive than A.F.D.C., which constantly required that parents prove their need; there were even cases where aid was cut off because a caseworker discovered an able-bodied man in the house, claiming that he could and should be supporting the children. The new aid will be unconditional for families earning less than $75,000 a year.

So no, this isn’t a return to welfare as we knew it; nobody will be able to live on child support. But it will sharply reduce child poverty. And it also, as I said, represents a philosophical break with the past few decades, and in particular with the obsessive fear that poor people might take advantage of government aid by choosing not to work.

True, some on the right are still flogging that horse. The ever-shrinking Marco Rubio denounced plans for a child tax credit as “welfare assistance.”

In any case, these traditional attacks, which used to terrify Democrats, no longer seem to be resonating. Clearly, something has changed in American politics.

To be honest, I’m not sure what provoked this change. Many expected major change under President Barack Obama, elected in the wake of a financial crisis that should have discredited free-market orthodoxy. But although he achieved a lot — especially Obamacare! — there wasn’t a big paradigm shift.

But now that shift seems to have arrived. And millions of American children will benefit.

Friday, March 12, 2021

Friday Morning Male Beauty


Joe Biden Is a Transformational President

Since the rise of Reagan, the Republican mantra has been antigovernment with a refrain that government was the problem.  Now, with the passage of the massive Covid relief bill and the pandemic having vividly demonstrated that there are some things that only a competent government - a term which excludes the former Trump/Pence regime - can address if the public is to be assisted in a meaningful way.  To date the contrast between the quiet professionalism of the Biden/Harris administration and the circus and carnival barker atmosphere of the prior regime could not be more stark.  Moreover, what we are witnessing may be a turning point in most Americans' view of what government should do for the common good. If the sea change is real, the GOP will be left with railing about the culture wars and white supremacy memes as the public embraces a more European view of what they want from government (a view I favor).  A column in the New York Times by a former Republican (who for too long as an apologist for the GOP's sickness) looks at this transformation.  Here are excerpts:

This has been one of the most quietly consequential weeks in recent American politics.

The Covid-19 relief law that was just enacted is one of the most important pieces of legislation of our lifetimes. As Eric Levitz writes in New York magazine, the poorest fifth of households will see their income rise by 20 percent; a family of four with one working and one unemployed parent will receive $12,460 in benefits. Child poverty will be cut in half.

The law stretches far beyond Covid-19 relief. There’s a billion for national service programs. Black farmers will receive over $4 billion in what looks like a step toward reparations. There’s a huge expansion of health insurance subsidies. Many of these changes, like the child tax credit, may well become permanent.

As Michael Hendrix of the Manhattan Institute notes, America spent $4.8 trillion in today’s dollars fighting World War II. Over the past year, America has spent over $5.5 trillion fighting the pandemic.

In a polarized era, the legislation is widely popular. Three-quarters of Americans support the law, including 60 percent of Republicans . . . . The Republican members of Congress voted against it, but the G.O.P. shows no interest in turning this into a great partisan battle. As I began to write this on Thursday morning, the Fox News home page had only two stories on the Covid relief bill and dozens on things like the royal family and cancel culture.

This moment is like 1981, the dawn of the Reagan Revolution, except in reverse. It’s not just that government is heading in a new direction, it’s that the whole paradigm of the role of government in American life is shifting. Biden is not causing these tectonic plates to shift, but he is riding them.

Reaganism was the right response to the stagflation of the 1970s, but Bidenism is a sensible response to a very different set of economic problems. Let one set of statistics stand in for hundreds: According to a team of researchers led by Raj Chetty, in 1970, 90 percent of 30-year-olds were making more than their parents had at that age. By 2010, only 50 percent were.

There was a premise through American history that if you worked hard you would earn economic security. That’s not as true for millennials and Gen-Z, or many other people across America.

These realities have created a different emotional climate that the pandemic has magnified — a climate of insecurity and precarity. These realities have also produced an intellectual revolution.

It was assumed, even only a decade ago, that the Fed could not just print money with abandon. It was assumed that the government could not rack up huge debt without spurring inflation and crippling debt payment costs. Both of these concerns have been thrown out the window by large numbers of thinkers. We’ve seen years of high debt and loose monetary policy, but inflation has not come.

So the restraints have been cast aside. We are now experiencing monetary and fiscal policies that would have been unimaginable a decade ago. This is like the moment when the G.O.P. abandoned fiscal conservatism for the go-go excitement of supply-side economics — which eventually devolved into mindless tax cuts for the rich.

The role of government is being redefined. There is now an assumption that government should step in to reduce economic insecurity and inequality.

This is not socialism. This is not the federal government taking control of the commanding heights of the economy. This is not a bunch of programs to restrain corporate power. Americans’ trust in government is still low. This is the Transfer State: government redistributing massive amounts of money by cutting checks to people, and having faith that they spend it in the right ways.

Both parties are adjusting to the new paradigm. With the wind at their backs, Democrats are concluding that Biden’s decision to eschew bipartisanship to pass a relief package is better than Barack Obama’s attempts to attract it. I don’t know if the filibuster will go away, but it certainly looks like it will be watered down.

Poor economic conditions pushed the G.O.P. away from Milton Friedman libertarianism and toward Donald Trump populism. Republicans have learned that in this new era it’s foolish to fight Democrats on redistribution policy, but they can win elections by fighting culture wars.

But income inequality, widespread child poverty and economic precarity are the problems of our time. It’s worth taking a risk to tackle all this. At first Biden seemed like the third chapter of the Clinton/Obama center-left era. But this is something new.

Biden may be uniquely qualified and positioned to lead this shift which I believe has the chance to create a better America for all, not just the very wealthy.

Thursday, March 11, 2021

More Thursday Male Beauty


Why America Needs to Have a Woman President

Monday was International Women's Day when women are honored for their achievements and all they do, yet in the USA women are still not fully equal under the law thanks to the Equal Rights Amendment not having been added to the U.S. Constitution.  Likewise, despite liking to see it self as the most advanced of countries, America has never had a female president despite study findings that women, in my view. make better legislators and leaders:  female legislators and leaders are more likely to find common ground with adversaries, advance health and welfare legislation, and avoid violent conflict. Obviously, there are exceptions, especially on the Republican side of the aisle such as science denying South Dakota Gov. Kristi L. Noem.  2024 may be the year that America has the opportunity to elect a woman president as noted in a column in the Washington Post by a former Republican.  Here are highlights:

International Women’s Day, celebrated Monday, reminds us of how far the United States has come — and how far it still has to go.

President Biden has nominated a record number of women to the Cabinet, including the first female treasury secretary and the first female director of national intelligence. Assuming his choices are confirmed, this will be the first gender-balanced Cabinet in U.S. history and one of only 14 among 193 countries (as of last fall). There is also a record number of women in Congress (primarily among Democrats), although they still comprise only 27 percent of the total. And, of course, Kamala D. Harris is the first female vice president, and Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) continues to serve as the first female speaker of the House.

That’s an impressive record, but there is an obvious omission at the top that needs to be rectified: The United States remains among the two-thirds of countries that have never had a woman in charge.

That is particularly striking because of how well so many women have done in power. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is the longest-serving leader in the European Union and was seen as the world’s most trusted leader in a Pew Research Center survey in September because of how skillfully she has navigated crises, including a massive influx of immigrants from the Middle East and the outbreak of covid-19. Her leadership was especially important during the past four years, when the United States, under President Donald Trump, ceased to lead the West.

Being a woman is no guarantee of competence, but my Council on Foreign Relations colleagues Rachel B. Vogelstein and Alexandra Bro, who compile its Women’s Power Index, point to research showing that female legislators and leaders are more likely to find common ground with adversaries, advance health and welfare legislation, and avoid violent conflict. “One study found,” they write, “that when women’s parliamentary representation increases by 5 percent, a country is almost five times less likely to respond to an international crisis with violence.”

We had our chance to elect a woman as president in 2016 — and we blew it. Not electing Hillary Clinton, a moderate, competent candidate, was one of the worst blunders in U.S. history. Odds are that, if Clinton had won, a lot of victims of covid-19 would still be alive. (The British medical journal the Lancet attributed 40 percent of U.S. coronavirus deaths to Trump’s “inept” response, while other studies suggest that female leaders did better at dealing with covid-19 than male counterparts.)

We are likely to have another opportunity to elect a woman as president in 2024. While there are two potential Republican contenders — former United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley and South Dakota Gov. Kristi L. Noem — the most likely woman, by far, to win the presidency is Vice President Harris. . . . . because Joe Biden, already the oldest U.S. president in history, will be 82 in 2024. He has previously spoken of himself as a “transition candidate” and signaled that he would serve only one term.

[I]t’s imperative that Harris acquire the stature and experience not only to win the next race but also to govern effectively. That’s especially important given the likelihood that Republicans will nominate either Trump or a Trump mini-me. America can’t survive another four years of Trumpism. Helping Harris get ready for the presidency, therefore, may be Biden’s most important job, beyond responding to immediate crises such as the coronavirus and global warming.

That’s why I was delighted to read a report from my Post colleague Olivier Knox that says Harris is taking an active role in foreign policy, including meeting regularly with the secretaries of state and defense, becoming a “vocal participant” in policy discussions regarding Iran and Saudi Arabia, and calling world leaders on her own. National security policy is the most important part of the president’s portfolio, but it is an area where Harris, a former attorney general of California and U.S. senator, does not have much experience. She has 1,337 days to fill that gap on her résumé and get ready to break the ultimate glass ceiling.

Thursday Morning Male Beauty


Wednesday, March 10, 2021

The Capitol Attack: White Supremacy Meets Evangelical Christianity

When I started following the so-called "Christian Right" three decades ago, I quickly came to believe that a majority of evangelicals, Southern Baptists and similar denominations had strong white supremacist tendencies.  This belief has only intensified in the years since and culminated in the January 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol when white supremacists and evangelical Christians marched side by side as they sought to disrupt the certification of the 2020 election and in essence overthrow American democracy. As a piece in Salon lays out, increasingly white evangelicals and white supremacists are one and the same.  Both want white control of the nation and demand that special deference be given to their beliefs.   Indeed, anything that infringes on their ability to discriminate and abuse others is deemed to be an attack on their "freedom."   Here are article excerpts:

In QAnon's alternate reality, a shadowy figure known as "Q" — who has been notably silent of late — sends out secret "drops" containing messages, clues and orders to true believers. . . . . Ultimately, QAnon is an updated version of the infamous anti-Semitic libel "Protocols of the Elders of Zion," a conspiracy theory which has existed since the early 20th century and played a central role in the Holocaust.

It is a con that lures in the weak-minded and the vulnerable. It is a political force with ambiguous but substantial influence within the neofascist Republican Party. It could also be described as a live-action roleplaying game for lonely and socially alienated adults who are desperate for a sense of agency, meaning and community in their lives.

QAnon also has elements of religion. Adrienne LaFrance writes at the Atlantic: . . . . Does it matter that basic aspects of Q's teachings cannot be confirmed? The basic tenets of Christianity cannot be confirmed. Among the people of QAnon, faith remains absolute. True believers describe a feeling of rebirth, an irreversible arousal to existential knowledge. They are certain that a Great Awakening is coming. They'll wait as long as they must for deliverance.

As a new religion, the emergence of QAnon coincides with and has fueled the Republican Party and Trump movement's embrace of right-wing terrorism and other political violence.  

Terrorism and extremism expert Colin Clarke told the Independent how white right-wing Christian evangelicals are being radicalized by the QAnon conspiracy theory into committing acts of terrorism:

"It's not going to get better anytime soon, unfortunately… Conspiratorial thinking is very closely associated with high-anxiety situations and endless wars, elections and national tragedies," he said.

Moreover, Clarke said there has been a "crossover" between the QAnon systems and evangelical Christianity that is going to imbue right-wing extremism with the sort of violent fanaticism more associated with al-Qaeda or Isis.

Robert Jones, CEO and founder of the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) . . . . .  explains how Trump's insurrection and the Capitol attack should also be understood as expressions of white supremacy and Christian nationalist violence. He also details how white evangelicals actually believe that they are being oppressed and have become victims in America — false beliefs which make them very susceptible to conspiracy theories such as QAnon, political extremism and, in the worst-case scenario terrorism and political violence such as we witnessed on Jan. 6. Jones also explores why white evangelicals are so loyal to Donald Trump and his political cult and what that reveals about American politics and society.

Polling shows that even after the insurrection on Jan. 6, there are still supermajorities of white evangelicals reporting that they hold favorable views of Donald Trump. There was a majority of evangelicals saying before the 2020 election that they saw President Trump as being called by God to be president. That has been true throughout Trump's presidency.

One of the most remarkable things about white evangelicals in terms of Donald Trump is how little their favorability toward him have changed. Two impeachments, major scandals —including sex scandals involving sordid matters such as having affairs and paying hush money — none of that really seems to have shaken their favorability towards Trump.

The power of Trump's appeal is a backward nostalgia which involves going to back to a previous time when white Christians had more power in the United States. "Making America Great Again" signals to that desire to "restore" that state of affairs.

During Trump's campaign speeches, and even on Jan. 6, Trump would say things such as, "If you're not ready to stand up and fight, America as you know it will be over. You're going to lose your country." But who is the "your"? Who is the "our"? Trump is appealing to a white Christian base. What he is communicating is, "I'm the person who's going to help you continue to hold onto your sense of ownership of this country."

For Trump's base of voters that is what it is all about. His appeal is not about policies. It's certainly not about abortion or same-sex marriage. The appeal is based around a single issue.

Looking at the Jan, 6 attack, . . . .  There were Bibles, there were crosses, there were Bible verses on signs. There were flags that said things such as, "Trump is my president, Jesus is my savior." There were shofars being blown, not by Jews but by Christians, who were convinced they were fulfilling some prophecy by bringing Trump into office.

Perhaps the image that stuck with me the most is that there was a fair amount of attention being paid to the Confederate battle flag being marched through the Capitol building. But what did not get enough attention is that there was also the Christian flag. Many people may not be familiar with it. That flag was being marched right into the House chamber along with the Confederate flag.

The insurrectionists are telling us who they are. They very deliberately chose those symbols. They wore them on their clothes. These were white supremacists. These were Christians. Those two groups were not fighting each other. They were marching side by side.

America has such a long history of being dominated by Christianity that many people are reluctant to really see the connections between white supremacy and Christianity as part of American culture.

But you are exactly right. The Ku Klux Klan targeted not just African Americans but also Jews and Catholics, because they considered the United States to be a white Anglo-Saxon Protestant country.

We passed from being a majority white Christian country to one that is no longer majority white Christian. That happened proximate to Obama's time in office. With him, the first black president, there was a very vivid symbol of demographic change. That really has set off a desperate struggle where many white Christians are now in a bid to hold onto their group's power.

Weird things happen when you get desperate. Those white Americans are reaching for almost anything that will tell them that they are still the most important group in the country, that they still own the country, the country was created for their benefit. In many ways the bedrock of their worldview is crumbling.

White evangelical Protestants are at a very dangerous place in their history today. They have been accustomed to being in the majority, as part of the mainstream of American culture. They find themselves increasingly out of step with the country in terms of their beliefs and their attitudes. Their children and grandchildren are disaffiliating from white evangelical churches. It is a shrinking movement.

The danger then becomes that if part of your worldview depends on the belief that America is a Christian nation — and not just a Christian nation but really a Protestant nation — and moreover that your group are rightful inheritors of that country, and you add in leaders telling you that your country is being unfairly taken away from you, it all becomes a very dangerous powder keg. Such beliefs can lead to extraordinary responses. I believe that the extremes of this view are violent. We should take that very seriously.

Evangelicals constitute a clear and present danger in America and need to be viewed as such by law enforcement and they need to cease being afforded deference and special rights.

Wednesday Morning Male Beauty


It's Time to End the Filibuster

As the Biden Covid relief bill nears final passage - solely on the basis of Democrat votes - it is becoming obvious that congressional Republicans, especially the grim reaper of the Senate, Mitch McConnell (who has done immense harm to the nation), will do all they can to block passage of much needed legislation that has majority of public opinion support.  Why?  Two reasons, the first being they want Democrats to enter the 2022 mid-terms with little accomplished. The larger reason is that the GOP is terrified that Biden's big government programs will succeed and demonstrate to the American public that the GOP's opposition hurts average Americans and more government in their lives is a benefit, not a curse as stated by Ronald Reagan.  The main tool that Republicans will attempt to use is the outdated, Jim Crow era filibuster.  A piece in The Atlantic makes the case that the filibuster needs to be abolished so that a minority cannot exert tyranny over the majority.  Here are highlights:

Last week the House of Representatives passed H.R. 1, a bill that would make voter registration automatic, end partisan gerrymandering, strengthen campaign-finance law, and bolster oversight of lobbyists. It’s the most sweeping package of democracy reforms in generations. Yet the mood among most democracy reformers was not giddy excitement but resigned dismay: Although H.R. 1 has passed the House, it remains in the pile of campaign promises—a higher minimum wage, an assault-weapons ban, comprehensive immigration reform, the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, and more—that under current Senate rules need 60 votes or more to pass, an essentially insurmountable requirement in today’s deeply polarized, evenly split legislature.

It’s hardly surprising that a growing number of Democratic politicians now want to end the legislative filibuster entirely, or that Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and his fellow Republicans are rallying to its defense. What is surprising, however, is how few Americans know that we’ve eliminated it before: 130 years ago, after a debate that makes today’s seem placid by comparison, Republican lawmakers got rid of the filibuster—not in the Senate, but in the House of Representatives.

The procedural battle that took place more than a century ago holds an important lesson for lawmakers of both parties today: Ending the filibuster may be messy, but it won’t destroy a legislative body. In fact, in a polarized age, the only guaranteed cure for political dysfunction is majority rule.

Like the Senate filibuster, which was created when then–Vice President Aaron Burr accidentally removed a rule permitting a majority of the chamber to force a vote on a bill, the House filibuster was at heart a procedural loophole. . . . . Just as in the Senate presently, a minority of the House could kill a popular bill by denying it an up-or-down vote.

At the turn of the 20th century, partisan polarization was almost as bad as it is today, which meant that the assumption back then was the same as it is now: The minority party would use the filibuster to completely derail the majority’s legislative agenda.

What no one anticipated, however, was a legislator as devoted to getting rid of the filibuster as Speaker Thomas Brackett Reed. A 6-foot-3, 300-pound Civil War veteran who favored walrus mustaches and all-black attire, . . . . he became convinced that if a minority of lawmakers could kill a bill without allowing a vote on it, the House would become, in his words, “a tyranny.”

The filibuster’s defenders warned that the end of the filibuster would fundamentally change the House, and they were right. With partisan control of the chamber no longer threatened by obstruction, party leaders became far more influential. Speakers—not just Reed, but his successors as well—consolidated power at the expense of individual members.

The House also took a populist turn. When tabloid-fueled jingoism swept the country a few years later, America declared war on Spain. This likely would not have happened if anti-war lawmakers, Reed among them, had been able to deny their pro-war colleagues a quorum. It seems likely that eliminating the Senate filibuster today would have similar effects, consolidating power in the hands of the majority leader and making the chamber more susceptible to the fickleness of public opinion.

[I]t’s hard not to view the end of the House filibuster as anything but a success for democracy. The 51st Congress, expected to accomplish next to nothing, instead became one of the most productive in history. With full control of government, Republicans passed the Sherman Antitrust Act to rein in big business; established land-grant colleges for Black students in the South; expanded pensions for Civil War veterans and their families; laid the foundation for the National Parks Service; created the beginnings of the federal immigration system; granted statehood to the Dakotas, Montana, Washington, and Idaho; and much more.

[T]he existence of the House filibuster, once so crucial to the chamber, began its slide into obscurity. Today, the laws passed by the 51st Congress continue to shape American life. Yet the procedural debate that made those laws possible—and sent lawmakers running for the exits—is forgotten, even to many of the filibuster’s staunchest defenders today.

Perhaps this is the most important lesson a 130-year-old parliamentary battle holds for lawmakers in 2021: If we end the Senate filibuster, our descendants are unlikely to find themselves longing for its return. If anything, they’ll be surprised that such a bizarre and anti-democratic practice was allowed to hold back progress for so long.

Tuesday, March 09, 2021

More Tuesday Male Beauty


Concerns Grow Over the Super Heated Housing Market

When the Covid-19 pandemic hit a year ago many businesses closed, workers were laid off and economic uncertainty was widespread.  Amazingly, the real estate market took off like a rocket and many in the real estate industry had their best year ever despite the pandemic, thanks in no small part by the record low mortgage rates (I had my best year ever in 2020).  A piece in Politico looks at the still surging housing market and some concerns that the rising prices will price many, especially Millennials, out of homeownership which is one important way that families build wealth.  Due to far stronger mortgage loan underwriting requirements it would seem that a repeat of the 2008 housing market collapse is not in the offing.   Thus, the predictions for the coming year are that housing will remain strong.  Here are article excerpts:

The booming housing market helped stave off economic collapse in 2020. But soaring prices are starting to worry policymakers, who fear the market could lock a generation of would-be buyers out of homeownership.

Home prices in January — typically a slow month for the market — were up 14 percent over the same month the previous year, while sales jumped 24 percent, despite an unemployment rate that was almost twice as high. Demand for existing homes is so strong that the average residence is on the market for just three weeks, and inventory is at a record low after seeing its steepest drop last year since the data was first tracked in 1999.

It all threatens to freeze broad swaths of the population out of the market, leaving millions of Americans in a less secure financial position, widening the racial wealth gap and forcing millennials, already lagging previous generations in building wealth and forming families, to fall even further behind.

“The dream of homeownership is out of reach for so many working people,” said Senate Banking Chair Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio). “Rising home prices and flat wages means that many families, especially families of color, may never be able to afford their first home.”

Brown, who insists on calling his panel the “Senate Banking and Housing Committee," vowed that these issues will be a top priority in the months ahead as the country struggles to recover from the pandemic-induced recession. Among other things, he said he plans to work with the Biden administration to address the rising cost of housing and expand access to homeownership “so that more families can rent and own homes in inclusive communities.”

The last time the U.S. saw such skyrocketing home prices, the ensuing crash brought down the global economy. Most industry analysts say the current boom is not a “bubble” akin to that frenzy of more than a decade ago, which led to the financial crisis.

Still, the current pace of home price appreciation is unsustainable, they say. “I am worried that the price run-up is going to choke off first-time buyers,” said Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the National Association of Realtors. “This simply cannot continue.”

For one thing, the crisis is unusually lopsided: White-collar employees who can work remotely have for the most part emerged unscathed, with many actually adding to their savings while reaping the benefits of higher stock prices. Historically low mortgage rates — a result of the Federal Reserve’s easy-money policy response to the crisis — nudged some of those buyers off the fence to buy a first or second home, according to analysts.

Meanwhile, a glut of millennials — the largest generational cohort in the country consisting of those born from the early 1980s to the mid-1990s — is reaching the prime age for buying first homes, and regional data suggests the pandemic spurred plenty of them to pick up stakes and head for the suburbs.

But there are simply not enough houses to meet the demographic demand, driving up the price of those houses that are for sale and potentially delaying many other millennials’ ability to become homeowners, the primary way Americans build wealth.

Another concern is that a potential spike in mortgage rates as the economy recovers could leave borrowers who rushed to buy when rates were low — and in some cases paid above asking price, given fierce competition for a limited supply of homes — in the lurch. And a sudden drop in home prices would hit sellers who have held off on listing their homes during the pandemic.

At first blush, market activity appears reminiscent of the boom before the 2008 credit crisis. Mortgage balances grew by $182 billion in the fourth quarter of 2020, the biggest quarterly uptick since 2007, according to the Federal Reserve’s latest report on household debt. More mortgages were originated in the fourth quarter of last year than in any single quarter since the Fed started tracking it in 2000, surpassing the previous high from 2003.

But the loans being made today are much stronger than they were then: 71 percent of originations in the fourth quarter of 2020 went to borrowers with credit scores above 760, considered a very strong number, compared with 31 percent of mortgages going to such creditworthy borrowers in the third quarter of 2003.

And unlike in the early 2000s, when there were too many homes, housing production has been low for years, plagued by a shortage of skilled labor and rising costs of raw materials. Homebuilders expect construction of single-family homes to pick up this year after freezing at the start of the Covid crisis, but lumber prices remain a major hurdle.

The price of lumber is up about 180 percent since April — an increase that works out to about $24,000 being added to the price of the average home, according to the National Association of Home Builders.

“I think we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg when it comes to migration,” said Daryl Fairweather, chief economist at Redfin. “There are going to be more people who want to move once they get more clarity on what post-pandemic life will look like.”

Those shifts — what Zillow economist Matthew Speakman called “the great reshuffling” — are taking place against a backdrop of over 70 million millennials reaching peak home-buying years.

There’s just a huge glut of young adults in the country now that wasn’t there a decade ago,” Speakman said. “The force driving the demand forward is here to stay and should provide more support in the year to come even as the pandemic craziness calms.”

If there aren’t enough homes to meet that demand, though, the largest generation in the country won’t be able to start building equity, which will in turn delay other financial decisions. Despite making up over a third of the workforce, millennials own less than 6 percent of all U.S. wealth, according to Federal Reserve data.

And Black and Latino Americans — who are twice as likely to rent as whites and more than twice as likely to report being behind on housing payments during the pandemic — could see the barriers to homeownership increase in the wake of the crisis. Renters behind on payments will face hits to their credit scores and potential eviction once the crisis passes — making it more difficult to rent their next home and more expensive to eventually buy one.

Most analysts expect home prices to continue to increase this year, even as gradually rising mortgage rates temper demand a little bit. But it could be years before the supply of housing can meet demand. In the meantime, millions of people will find themselves priced out.

Tuesday Male Beauty


Monday, March 08, 2021

Monday Morning Male Beauty


Will Republicans Torpedo the Immunization Push?

One of the key attributes of what nowadays passes for "conservativism" is selfishness and greed, but particularly selfishness. This selfishness runs from refusing to wear a mask and thus endangering others, to trampling on the rights of others to now a refusal to get the Coovid-19 vaccine. It goes without saying that much of this selfishness is centered in the Republican Party and its base of deplorables. The problem is especially pronounced among rural whites.  And if enough Americans are not vaccinated, the ability to reach "herd immunity" may not occur.  All thanks to a false sense of "liberty" and "freedom" that cares nothing for others.  A piece in Politico looks at the coming problem of the vaccine refusers. Here are highlights:

The Biden administration can finally ship large quantities of coronavirus shots into the American heartland, where health officials are encountering a reservoir of vaccine skepticism among rural Americans who’ve adopted former President Donald Trump’s denial of a virus battering their communities.

If a critical mass of people don’t accept Covid-19 vaccines, the country won’t achieve “herd immunity.” When there was just a trickle of vaccines, hesitancy didn’t matter as much because plenty of people were clamoring for the scarce shots. Now that the supply is ramping up, the challenge is to overcome fear, distrust and outright antagonism to the new vaccines shared by some groups in large numbers. That’s the path to save lives, slow the emergence of new virus variants, end the stress on the health care system and restore the economy.

Because the pandemic hit Black and brown communities so hard — at the same time as a broad and disruptive American awakening over race — much of the focus has been on getting the shots to minority communities and addressing their long distrust of a health care system that at times has ignored and abused them.

But polls have found that some of the deepest opposition to vaccines is among rural whites and Republicans, including some who say the risk of Covid-19 has been exaggerated. One coalition of health groups and nonprofits has even engaged a prominent GOP pollster and wordsmith to help them break through with pro-vaccine messages.

But the damage from months of mixed messaging about the virus’s severity, whether from Trump world or social media, has been done, say public health experts and health care workers administering shots in rural America.

Of course, rural America isn’t monolithic — it isn’t all white, Republican and poor. It’s found in pockets of the bluest states, as well as vast stretches of the red ones. But reaching the most vaccine skeptical in those communities — which polls regularly find are white, Republican and under 50 — will be a messaging challenge that helps determine the pandemic’s trajectory in the coming weeks and months.

Not all vaccine fears are identical. People who are worried about side effects for instance — a common theme — can be reassured, and there are already signs that such apprehension is dissipating as they watch friends and family get vaccinated without injury. But people who just don’t believe that the virus is a threat, or who viscerally oppose all vaccines, are a lot tougher. Others may be inclined to get vaccinated but aren’t willing to travel long distances for it.

“Vaccine hesitancy comes in a whole lot of different flavors,” said Alabama’s top health official, Scott Harris. His team is currently focused on the historically underserved rural “Black Belt” counties in southern Alabama but is planning a broader multi-media campaign aimed at building confidence in all demographic groups.

Given the high degree of hesitancy among Republicans and rural Americans, a coalition of health groups and foundations turned to Frank Luntz, a prominent GOP pollster and message crafter. He found that lecturing, shaming or even appealing to abstract notions of doing what’s right doesn’t change minds. What resonated is emphasizing how vaccines can make people and their loved ones safe — and how it can help life return to normal.

Kaiser’s most recent survey last month detected an encouraging shift out of the “wait and see” group. Those reporting they were “eager” to get vaccinated had risen to 55 percent, up from 34 percent from December.

But there was scant movement among the hard-line “no” groups. For instance, the share of Republicans who said they would not get a shot under any circumstances, or only if forced to for work, dipped ever so slightly, from 24 percent to 22.

Idiocy and insanity now define the right.

Sunday, March 07, 2021

Final Sunday Male Beauty


Biden Is Rolling Back the Culture War

As noted in the prior post, Donald Trump sought to inflame the so-called culture war as part of his effort to maintain the loyalty of morally bankrupt evangelicals, Christofascists, and grifter scamvangelists always in a pursuit of power and, of course money.  State Republicans are seeking to employ the same tactic. Yet, so far the Biden administration's main focus has been on ending the Covid-19 pandemic, undertaking measures Trump could have implemented six months or more ago had his regime not been like a never ending version of a bad reality TV show. As part of this effort, he has relied on legitimate healthcare experts and he has sought to aid struggling Americans to whom the Republicans only offer racial division and religious intolerance as a distraction. Obviously, Biden cannot roll back the culture wars unilaterally, but by refusing to be distracted and ignoring insults flung by total hypocrites like Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley, both of whom have Ivy League resumes, who pretend to represent working Americans even as they throw them under the economic bus.  A column in the Washington Post looks at Biden's efforts.  Here are excerpts: 

One of President Biden’s early achievements does not get enough attention: He is rolling back the politics of culture wars. This is good news for his electoral and governing projects, but also for our country.

This assertion will invite contradictory dissents. On the one side, culture wars were bound to abate during a pandemic and economic downturn. The other response is: Are you kidding? If culture wars are over, why is Dr. Seuss all over Fox News?

To take the second point first: Sure, cultural conflict will forever be part of American life. Our habits, mores and assumptions are always in flux, especially given the United States’ exceptional religious, racial and ethnic diversity — along with our long-running feuds between big cities and the countryside. . . . . But what matters is how politicized these conflicts become. Republicans and conservatives have used culture wars as a way of encouraging working-class voters to cast their ballots on the basis of social, religious and racial issues rather than on economic questions.

Ever since the 1960s, the GOP has chipped away at the New Deal coalition by insisting that when the word “elitist” is used, it is a reference to cultural trendsetters and professors, not corporate titans.

And when Texas Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Princeton, Harvard Law School) claimed that Republicans are now the party of “working class men and women” in an interview on Fox News, he spoke of how their wages were being “pulled down” because they were competing with “people coming illegally.” Thus did undocumented immigrants become the class enemy. . . . A member of the party that has done everything it could for the past four decades to destroy organized labor, Cruz even had the temerity to say that Democrats “don’t represent unions anymore.”

His words came a day after Biden offered one of the most pro-union speeches ever given by a president. . . . . Of particular note here is how Biden linked the inequalities of class and race. Here again, he’s fighting against wedge politics aimed at dividing middle- and working-class voters along racial and ethnic lines — and immigration status.

Now, you could argue that Biden’s relentless attention to the pandemic, and the work of economic relief and recovery, is simply common sense. And it is. . . . But the president and his team have exercised enormous discipline in keeping the national conversation focused on bread-and-butter assistance to the vast majority of Americans. It’s one reason his $1.9 trillion aid package that cleared the House and then passed the Senate on Saturday with only Democratic votes polls so well.

And whenever he could, Biden has tried to shift the conversation about the pandemic away from cultural conflict and toward the practical work of ending the scourge.

Former president Donald Trump, and now his allies, keep trying to turn mask-wearing into a cultural question linked to personal liberty. Biden calmly but pointedly speaks for the roughly three-quarters of the American public that sees mask-wearing not as some esoteric form of compulsory virtue signaling but as part of everyone’s responsibility to help prevent the spread of covid-19.

The right wing tried to make a new flash point out of Biden’s rebuke to “Neanderthal thinking” after Republican governors in Texas and Mississippi lifted mask-wearing requirements.

But it hasn’t stuck, and Biden cares more about getting people to wear masks than in pushing the fight further. In any event, most Americans know how deadly it was to politicize mask-wearing in the first place, and it’s excruciatingly hard to turn Biden (D-University of Delaware, Syracuse University College of Law) into an elitist peddler of cultural radicalism. . . . . a 78-year-old White guy is harder for the radical right to demonize than, say, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton or Nancy Pelosi.

No wonder anti-Biden paraphernalia sold so poorly at the CPAC meeting, as The Post’s David Weigel reported. “I can’t give the Biden stuff away,” mourned merchandizer David Solomon.

As for Dr. Seuss, Republicans might yet help Biden turn that controversy into an economic question, too. After all, their resolute opposition to Biden’s proposal to help Americans in economic trouble makes them resemble no one so much as the Grinch . . . . 

More Sunday Male Beauty


State Republicans Introduce 108 Bills Targeting LGBT Citizens

During its four years of misrule, the Trump/Pence regime waged a relentless war against LGBT Americans both to pander to the Christofascist base of the GOP and to further Pence's animus towards the LGBT community.  While Joe Biden is diligently working to undo the anti-LGBT handiwork of Trump/Pence, across the country in GOP controlled legislatures a host of bills have been introduced by legislators eager to prostitute themselves to the Christofascists to inflame the culture wars to distract members of the party base from the reality that the Republicans are doing nothing to aid economically working class American (the South Dakota capitol is shown at right).  Indeed, Congressional Republicans voted against the Covid relief bill that will benefit millions of working families.   A piece in The Advocate looks at the state level war on LGBT citizens.  Here are highlights: 

As the new Democratic presidential administration is making progress on LGBTQ+ equality, far-right lawmakers at the state level are trying further marginalize the community, especially transgender people.

As of this week there have been 71 specifically anti-trans bills introduced in state legislatures around the country, along with 37 bills that target the LGBTQ+ population overall, according to the Human Rights Campaign’s latest count.

“In states across the country, we are facing an emergency,” HRC President Alphonso David said on a conference call with reporters Thursday (see video below). “Anti-equality forces are attacking our families. They’re attacking our children. They’re attacking our dignity, and they’re attacking our existence.”

Of the anti-trans proposals, 37 seek to restrict transgender athletes’ participation in school sports, with an emphasis on keeping trans girls and women from competing with cisgender females. Twenty-five are aimed at preventing trans minors from receiving gender-affirming procedures, even if the young people have the support of their families. There are nine other bills that would harm trans people in various ways.

Of the broader anti-LGBTQ+ bills, there are 21 so-called religious freedom bills that would enable discrimination against LGBTQ+ people, women, members of minority faiths, and more. Others seek to protect conversion therapy, limit sex education, or otherwise infringe on LGBTQ+ rights.

Most of the bills have been introduced in the South, the Great Plains, or the Mountain West, although there are a few pending in usually progressive states such as Minnesota, New Hampshire, and New Jersey. The two that are closest to becoming law are an anti-trans sports bill in Mississippi and a religious refusals bill in South Dakota.

As for the assertion that these bills are driven by a concern about women’s rights — those of cisgender women, anyway — the right-wing lawmakers behind them have generally shown little concern about funding for women’s sports, equal treatment in the workplace, or reproductive freedom (regarding the latter issue, they have sought to take away access to contraception and abortion). Anti-trans sports legislation is widely opposed by women’s and children’s rights groups.

Opponents of the anti-trans measures say there’s a coordinated effort by anti-LGBTQ+ groups such as the Alliance Defending Freedom. The organization wrote Montana’s so-called Save Women’s Sports Act, and some other pieces of legislation have been modeled on it, LGBTQ+ activists say.

In targeting trans youth, far-right politicians and organizations are taking aim at the most vulnerable members of the LGBTQ+ community, and they may have been emboldened by the attacks that have come from Donald Trump and his ilk . . .

South Dakota is the only state where both chambers have passed a religious refusals bill, and it’s up to Gov. Kristi Noem, a rising Republican star, whether to sign it. The bill was introduced because of restrictions on religious services during the COVID-19 pandemic and sought to assure that religious and secular institutions were treated equally, Janna Farley, communications director for the American Civil Liberties Union of South Dakota, said on Thursday’s conference call.

Her organization had no problem with that intent, but the bill was written so broadly as to open the door to the use of religion for discrimination against LGBTQ+ and two-spirit people, members of minority faiths, and others, Farley said. She mentioned a landlord in Minnesota who cited his religious beliefs in refusing to rent to an unmarried couple, and a police officer in Oklahoma who wouldn’t work at a Muslim event. The ACLU and others asked lawmakers to amend the bill to address these potential harms, but their concerns were ignored, she said.

The legislation is similar to a Religious Freedom Restoration Act adopted in 2015 in Indiana, when Mike Pence was governor. It was amended after much public outrage. David and others predicted a similar outcry if the South Dakota bill becomes law.

“South Dakota potentially risks the loss of business opportunities and the revenue that comes with it, significant legal fees, and damage to the state’s reputation,” David said in a statement this week. “We strongly urge Governor Kristi Noem to reject this dangerous and controversial legislation that would invite a world of problems for South Dakota amidst already difficult circumstances for the state and this country.”