Saturday, April 24, 2021

More Saturday Male Beauty


Gun Control Is Now a Matter of National Security

With mass shootings becoming nearly a weekly occurrence, any sane person should support new gun restrictions, especially a ban on assault style weapons designed for one purpose: killing numerous people very quickly.   But, as two former National Security Council members argue in a piece in Politico, there is another reason for new gun legislation: the growing threat of right wing militias/white supremacist groups that pose a growing threat to safety and - as demonstrated on January 6, 2021 - democratic government.  Enacting common sense gun restrictions and banning assault weapons will be difficult, but by framing the issue as a national security matter may make the task easier if shooting and hunting enthusiasts realize that the militias pose a threat to the rest of society.  Here are article excepts:

For all the tragic mass shooting headlines this year, the American gun control debate seems permanently stuck. Last week, nine people were killed by AR-15 fire in Indianapolis; before that, 10 died in Boulder, and eight in Atlanta. Despite the anguish over the past month — and despite a push by President Joe Biden — Congress looks unlikely to take any immediate action.

We share Biden’s view that the level of U.S. gun violence is a “national embarrassment.” But as National Security Council veterans who have specialized in counterterrorism—with direct experience involving far-right American terrorism, burgeoning jihadism, and Northern Irish extremism in the 1990s—we also see a new threat rising, one that has the potential to change the urgency of the debate: the growing, and heavily armed, American militia movement, which made a show of force on January 6.

Increasingly, as militias acquire and stockpile weapons, they’re turning guns from a public-health concern into a threat to national security. And it’s possible that if proponents of reform—including advocacy groups, congressional leaders and Biden—began addressing it that way, they’d have a chance of energizing the debate against the National Rifle Association and its allies. Indeed, the shock of the insurrection has increased the political burdens of an NRA in internal disarray and offered a new perspective on the need for significant gun control legislation.

As America learned on January 6, anti-government militia groups are more than willing to jump walls, break doors and disrupt the underpinnings of our democracy. These groups, with transnational ties, also enjoy easy access to high-power, high-capacity, small-caliber semiautomatic weapons—many of which can be converted to fully automatic. . . . . they make mass casualty attacks against political or cultural adversaries both easy to carry out, and easy to frame as inspirational events of the kind that mobilize insurrection.

The executive orders Biden issued earlier this month imposing restrictions on gun kits and devices that turn pistols into rifles are marginal safeguards and rather thin gruel overall. But his call for reviving the federal ban on assault weapons is more promising and an acknowledgment that serious action is required. An important additional measure would be more rigorous required background checks.

[R]eframing the issue as a national security imperative could galvanize passive backers now focused by the assault on the Capitol on maintaining political stability in the United States. A plausible objective would be to impel the U.S. government to take further substantial regulatory steps and to lay the groundwork for effective legislation should the Democrats consolidate their Senate majority in 2022.

The administration, however, will have to tread carefully to avoid provoking the very behavior it means to deter. Extremists will interpret increased firearms regulation as validating their narrative of government-imposed social engineering and personal disempowerment. . . . But the increased magnitude of those very risks is exactly why we need to recast gun control as a national security challenge.

As delicate an issue as gun rights is, without action the prospect of cycles of escalating civil violence is particularly worrisome. Even assuming law enforcement agencies adjust their threat perceptions to accord domestic terrorism due attention—as they should—the wide distribution of automatic weapons and abundant ammunition to individuals hostile to the state is likely to be seen as justification for the further militarization of law enforcement in the post-9/11 era.

While Trump’s nod to white supremacism and incitement of far-right insurrection have already prompted some Black citizens to arm themselves in self-defense, continuing police antagonism on top of that could increase the likelihood that Black militias will emerge. Armed conflict between nonstate groups would be even harder to subdue than one-sided, far-right aggression.

Meanwhile, the broad dispersal of mass casualty small arms makes every individual willing to use one a potentially catalytic lone-wolf terrorist . . . . Many far-right American militias, including the anti-authoritarian Boogaloo Bois, explicitly encourage their followers to act on their own initiative, as Tarrant did, in “leaderless resistance” against the state, and several, starting with Timothy McVeigh, have done so.

[T]he extreme political polarization in the contemporary U.S. is not terribly far from what existed during and immediately after our own Civil War. That toxic and potentially explosive intramural animosity has remained latent and is now resurfacing in the form of the white supremacism preached by most of the armed militias, convinced that the country is run by a malign and treacherous liberal “deep state” and destined to be ethnically compromised unless they take drastic, violent action.

Right-wing extremists hold guns in vastly disproportionate numbers. Law enforcement appears constrained to tolerate their training in military-style camps, more or less openly, and their incendiary, often seditious rhetoric, turbocharged by the internet, as the lawful exercise of free speech. The possibility of muscular legislation, like “red flag” laws permitting law enforcement officers to seize firearms from those judged to be public-safety risks — has only fueled their anti-government fervor.

Large-scale confiscation and deradicalization and are not realistic prospects in the near future. But an assault weapons ban does seem within the Biden administration’s political grasp.

[W]ise policy in contemporary America would seek to separate destabilizing extremists from ordinary people with remediable grievances. This is common sense. The administration’s message to garden-variety firearms enthusiasts should be: Don’t let seditious radicals imperil your access to the guns you cherish. Protect your hobby by backing enforcement. Hunting, recreational shooting and personal defense against criminal threats are all fine; anti-government, white supremacist militia activity is not.

Durably reducing the threat to political stability clearly hinges on the resolution of big issues, including income inequality, cultural anxieties and an overheated media environment. But we will buy ourselves room to maneuver and time to deal with these challenges by reducing the firepower of militias and the lone wolves they inspire.

Saturday Morning Male Beauty


Facing Reality About Coal and Climate Change

Southwest Virginia remains the Commonwealths economic basket case - something that has been true for years but which has worsened as coal has become non-competitive economically when faced with natural gas and solar and wind derived power.  Donald Trump disingenuously promised to bring back coal despite the economic impossibility and all that resulted was undoing regulations to protect clean water and breathable air yet it was enough for many voters in Southwest Virginia to jump on board the Trump band wagon.  The Trump/GOP tax cuts primarily helped the very wealthy and coal miners got zilch. As a column in the New York Times lays out, the United Mine Workers of America - the largest union in the coal industry - appears to be finally grasping the reality that coal is never coming back and that the best to be hoped for is the investment in coal country that will help in the transition to different industries, something that is included in the Biden administration's infrastructure proposals. The big problem Southwest Virginia and other coal mining regions face is that most future facing industries have no desire to locate in these regions.  Why? Because these regions remain cultural backwaters where racism, the embrace of ignorance and right wing religious extremism predominate. The populations most in need of help remain the biggest obstacle to their own economic revival as noted in the column.  Here are column highlights:

“Change is coming, whether we seek it or not.” So declares a remarkable document titled “Preserving Coal Country,” released Monday by the United Mine Workers of America, in which the union — which at its peak represented half a million workers — accepts the reality that coal isn’t coming back. Instead, it argues, the goal should be “a true energy transition that will enhance opportunities for miners, their families and their communities.”

It’s good to see this kind of realism. Remember, back in 2016 Donald Trump promised that he would restore coal to its former greatness, reopening shuttered mines — and voters in coal country believed him. Many of them probably still imagine that something like that is possible.

The union, however, understands that it isn’t. What killed the mines wasn’t a “war on coal”; it was technological progress, first in the extraction of natural gas, then in solar and wind power. Generating electricity from coal would be economically unviable even if we didn’t have to worry about climate change.

Of course, we do need to worry about climate change, which is an existential threat to civilization. The question is how to address this threat.

The union’s document is in effect an endorsement, at least in principle, of the Biden administration’s plans to make action against climate change a centerpiece of its boost to infrastructure spending.

Some background: Conventional economics suggests that the best way to limit greenhouse gas emissions is either to impose a carbon tax or to create a cap-and-trade system in which polluters must buy permits for their emissions.

This is, however, not the path the Biden administration is taking. Why?

First, the economic case for relying almost exclusively on a carbon tax misses the crucial role of technological development. The reason large reductions in emissions look much easier to achieve now than they did a dozen years ago is that we’ve seen spectacular progress in renewable energy: a 70 percent fall since 2009 in the cost of wind power, an 89 percent fall in the cost of solar power.

And this technological progress didn’t just happen. It was at least partly a result of investments made by the Obama administration. These investments were ridiculed by conservatives . . . . In retrospect, however, it is clear that government spending provided a crucial technological lift. And this suggests that public investment, as well as or even instead of a carbon tax, can be a way forward in fighting climate change.

Second, the idea that a carbon tax can achieve bipartisan support is hopelessly naïve. Only 14 percent of Republicans even accept the notion that climate change is an important issue.

What might win over at least some of these voters, however, is the kind of program the United Mine Workers is calling for: targeted spending designed to help retrain former miners and support development in coal country communities.

I don’t want to be overly optimistic about the Biden strategy. For one thing, while there’s a compelling case against relying exclusively on a carbon tax to fight climate change, public investment alone also probably isn’t enough. Eventually we will almost surely have to put a price on greenhouse gas emissions, politically difficult though that will be.

On the other side, while it’s great to see the mine workers’ union call for policies that support “coal country,” not coal jobs — that is, communities rather than a specific industry — that’s still a tall order. Although Covid-19 created temporary disruptions, it remains true that the 21st-century economy “wants” to concentrate good jobs in major metropolitan areas with highly educated work forces. Promoting job creation in West Virginia or eastern Kentucky won’t be easy, and may be impossible.

But we can and should make a good-faith effort to help workers and regions that will lose as we try to avoid environmental catastrophe, and in general to make climate policy as politically palatable as possible, even at some cost in efficiency. Climate action is too important a task to insist that it be done perfectly.

Meanwhile, coal regions continue to lose population and many of the best and brightest leave for more progressive areas where businesses want to locate.  Southwest Virginia has much natural beauty, but unless visiting The Homestead resort or The Greenbrier resort just across the border in West Virginia, it's not a region I for one would want to even visit due to the unwelcoming mindset of much of the local population. 

Friday, April 23, 2021

Friday Morning Male Beauty


The Republican Party Continues to Metastasize

Studies have shown that conservatives think differently than liberals with fear being a far stronger motivator than optimism.  This fear factor combines with a stronger sense of tribalism that sees those who are perceived as being different as a threat.  Hence the right wing whites' animosity towards minorities, gays, foreigners, and those of different faiths. The mind set is that you are either one of them or the enemy.  Donald Trump played upon this mindset and held himself up as the protector of whites terrified by real or imagined loss of white privilege and social dominance.  While Trump is thankfully out of office, the Republican Party continues to metastases and the extremism is growing.  Surveys show that the Republican base thinks it faces a catastrophe and sees the world and society as a zero sum game where benefits going to anyone else means they have lost something. Of course, some of the worse elements in the GOP base in this regard are the Christofascists who remain outraged that their ability to mistreat and harm others is declining. A column in the New York Times by a former Republican (who for too long was a GOP apologist) looks at the worsening of the GOP which continues to pose a threat to democracy.  Here are highlights:

Those of us who had hoped America would calm down when we no longer had Donald Trump spewing poison from the Oval Office have been sadly disabused. There are increasing signs that the Trumpian base is radicalizing. My Republican friends report vicious divisions in their churches and families. Republican politicians who don’t toe the Trump line are speaking of death threats and menacing verbal attacks.

It’s as if the Trump base felt some security when their man was at the top, and that’s now gone. Maybe Trump was the restraining force.

What’s happening can only be called a venomous panic attack. Since the election, large swathes of the Trumpian right have decided America is facing a crisis like never before and they are the small army of warriors fighting with Alamo-level desperation to ensure the survival of the country as they conceive it.

The first important survey data to understand this moment is the one pollster Kristen Soltis Anderson discussed with my colleague Ezra Klein. When asked in late January if politics is more about “enacting good public policy” or “ensuring the survival of the country as we know it,” 51 percent of Trump Republicans said survival; only 19 percent said policy.

The level of Republican pessimism is off the charts. A February Economist-YouGov poll asked Americans which statement is closest to their view: “It’s a big, beautiful world, mostly full of good people, and we must find a way to embrace each other and not allow ourselves to become isolated” or “Our lives are threatened by terrorists, criminals and illegal immigrants, and our priority should be to protect ourselves.”

Over 75 percent of Biden voters chose “a big, beautiful world.” Two-thirds of Trump voters chose “our lives are threatened.” This level of catastrophism, nearly despair, has fed into an amped-up warrior mentality.

With this view, the Jan. 6 insurrection was not a shocking descent into lawlessness but practice for the war ahead. A week after the siege, nearly a quarter of Republicans polled said violence can be acceptable to achieve political goals. William Saletan of Slate recently rounded up the evidence showing how many Republican politicians are now cheering the Jan. 6 crowd, voting against resolutions condemning them.

Liberal democracy is based on a level of optimism, faith and a sense of security. It’s based on confidence in the humanistic project: that through conversation and encounter, we can deeply know each other across differences; that most people are seeking the good with different opinions about how to get there; that society is not a zero-sum war, but a conversation and a negotiation.

Philosophic liberals — whether on the right side of the political spectrum or the left — understand people have selfish interests, but believe in democracy and open conversation because they have confidence in the capacities of people to define their own lives, to care for people unlike themselves, to keep society progressing.

With their deep pessimism, the hyperpopulist wing of the G.O.P. seems to be crashing through the floor of philosophic liberalism into an abyss of authoritarian impulsiveness. Many of these folks are no longer even operating in the political realm. The G.O.P. response to the Biden agenda has been anemic because the base doesn’t care about mere legislation, just their own cultural standing.

Over the last decade or so, as illiberalism, cancel culture and all the rest have arisen within the universities and elite institutions on the left, dozens of publications and organizations have sprung up. They have drawn a sharp line between progressives who believe in liberal free speech norms, and those who don’t.

This is exactly the line-drawing that now confronts the right, which faces a more radical threat. Republicans and conservatives who believe in the liberal project need to organize and draw a bright line between themselves and the illiberals on their own side. This is no longer just about Trump the man, it’s about how you are going to look at reality — as the muddle its always been, or as an apocalyptic hellscape. It’s about how you pursue change — through the conversation and compromise of politics, or through intimidations of macho display.

I can tell a story in which the Trumpians self-marginalize or exhaust themselves. Permanent catastrophism is hard. But apocalyptic pessimism has a tendency to deteriorate into nihilism, and people eventually turn to the strong man to salve the darkness and chaos inside themselves.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Thursday Morning Male Beauty


Why Republicans Are Fixated on Suppressing the Vote

Political parties exist to win elections of their candidates.  Part of this effort should be developing policies that have majority support and having a plan for the long future.  Today's Republican Party has abandoned both of these objectives and now focuses increasingly on the wants and fears of a shrinking majority - aided in the process by the anti-democratic structure of the U.S. Senate and the Electoral College that give unequal power to small mostly rural state - and seemingly has no long term plan to deal with the changing racial and social demographics of the nation.  With increasingly unpopular policies (at least outside of white supremacist and Christofascist circles) and a shrinking party base, the GOP solution to these failures is to make it difficult for those not supportive of the GOP to vote, with emphasis on targeting minority voters and younger voters who typically find the GOP agenda the most abhorrent.  A column in the Washington Post by a former Republican - and previously a GOP apologist - looks at the statistics behind the GOP's obsession with voter suppression.  Here are excerpts:

Why are Republicans so willing to incur the wrath of civil rights groups, to risk alienating college-educated voters and to alienate big business by engaging in flagrant voter suppression? Two statistics provide clarity.

The first comes from TargetSmart, a Democratic data firm that has compiled information on more than 98 percent of those who cast ballots last year from individual voter files. The firm finds: “Non-college educated whites dropped from 53.8% of the electorate in 2016 to 49.2% in 2020.” Moreover, “Nationally, total turnout increased by 12% relative to 2016, turnout among [Asian American and Pacific Islander] voters surged by 43% and Latino turnout increased by almost a third of all votes cast.” (While the disgraced former president may have done better among Hispanics in some states than he did in 2016, overall, he still lost 65 percent of these voters.)

TargetSmart’s chief executive, Tom Bonier, told me this means that non-college-educated Whites increased turnout over 2016, but just not as fast as other groups. In other words, the GOP is “running out” of non-college-educated Whites.

Republicans’ “solution” is to keep these voters at a fever pitch, sell them on fear and resentment, and to try to maximize their share of the electorate by making it harder for everyone else to vote — especially non-Whites and low-income Americans.

It has not occurred to Republicans, as the Atlantic’s David A. Graham has explained, that “they may well discover that they have actually disenfranchised many of their own supporters, even as their push to pass restrictive rules energizes their opponents.” Indeed, post-election analysis suggests that the GOP’s presidential nominee would have lost even in a lower turnout election and that, as a Stanford University report has found, “no-excuse absentee voting mobilized relatively few voters and had at most a muted partisan effect despite the historic pandemic.” In other words, making it more difficult to vote absentee and discouraging turnout overall may well backfire.

The second statistic behind the Republicans’ collective panic attack has to do with their solid core of supporters: White evangelical Christians. As I pointed out last month, Gallup finds that the percentage of those attending any religious institution has dropped below 50 percent, the first time in 80 years of its surveys. Churches are losing younger Americans at a remarkable rate , , ,

If Republicans cannot find enough non-college-educated Whites and, worse for them, cannot count on White evangelicals (more than 80 percent of whom voted for the MAGA party) to keep pace with the growth of nonreligious voters, their nativist party — driven by fears of an existential threat to White Christianity — will no longer be viable at the national level.

Republicans, in essence, are trying to eke out as many election cycles as they can with its shrinking base. Deathly afraid of alienating the most rabid MAGA supporters, they continue to stoke racial resentment, fear of immigrants and bizarro conspiracy theories — all of which push away non-Whites, women, college-educated voters and younger voters. In sum, Republicans’ base is vanishing and they haven’t the slightest idea what to do about it — other than a possibly self-destructive effort to disenfranchise voters.

This is not the political party I grew up in and in which I was actively involved years ago.  As I have said many times, in my view, the descent into insanity and anti-democratic efforts began when the ignorance embracing, racist Christofascists began to infiltrate and then take over the party base. 

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

More Wednesday Male Beauty


"Anglo-Saxon": When ‘Whites Only’ Is Too Inclusive

In some circles within the Republican Party being white is no longer enough to be embraced by the Party.  No, one must be the right type of white and themes and false science from a century ago are being revived as a means to reinforce the GOP's whites only  mindset.  While the "America First Caucus" proposed by nut bag, QAnon lunatic Marjorie Taylor Greene and others met quick blow back that left its organizers lying and scrambling to distance themselves from the proposal, the underlying extreme racism behind the effort has not disappeared.  A piece in The Atlantic looks at the ugly antecedents of the "Anglo-Saxon" terminology in American history and the desire by some in the Republican Party to go backward in time to a time when only some whites qualified as cultural and political leaders,  Expect the theme to return simply wrapped in better messaging so as to avoid alienating more people from the shrinking GOP base.  Here are article excerpts:

Last week, far-right Republican Representatives Marjorie Taylor Greene and Paul Gosar distanced themselves from a proposal to create an America First Caucus, after a document bearing the group’s name made reference to “Anglo-Saxon political traditions.”

Both Greene and Gosar told the press that they hadn’t seen the document and did not endorse its sentiments, after House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy condemned the effort, saying that America “isn’t built on identity, race, or religion,” and rejecting “nativist dog whistles.”

If seeing the party of Donald Trump distance itself from nativism is strange, it helps to understand that “Anglo-Saxon” is what you say when “whites only” is simply too inclusive.

The Anglo-Saxonism to which I refer has little to do with the Germanic peoples who settled in medieval England. Rather, it’s an archaic, pseudoscientific intellectual trend that gained popularity during the height of immigration from Eastern and Southern Europe to the United States, at the turn of the 20th century. Nativists needed a way to explain why these immigrants—Polish, Russian, Greek, Italian, and Jewish—were distinct from earlier generations, and why their presence posed a danger.

They settled on the idea that the original “native” American settlers were descended from “the tribes that met under the oak-trees of old Germany to make laws and choose chieftains,” as Francis Walker put it in The Atlantic in 1893, and that the new immigrants lacked the biological aptitude for democracy. Anglo-Saxon was a way to distinguish genteel old-money types, such as nativist Republican Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, from members of inferior races who had names such as, well, McCarthy. The influential eugenicist Madison Grant insisted that the Irish possessed an “unstable temperament” and a “lack of coordinating and reasoning power.”

This belief that America’s “original” population was Anglo-Saxon, and that the American way of life was threatened by the presence not just of nonwhite people but of inferior, non-Anglo-Saxon (or “Nordic”) white people, shaped the racist immigration-restriction laws of the early 20th century. As historians have documented, it also influenced the ideology of Nazi Germany. Translated into law, it produced such horrifying artifacts as Virginia’s 1924 anti-miscegenation act, passed with the aid of the eugenicist Anglo-Saxon Clubs. The law required all babies to be classified as “white” or “colored” and made it a felony to “misrepresent” your racial background. The Nazi jurists studying American race laws in the 1930s thought such “one drop” rules were a bit too strict.

The Anglo-Saxon Clubs naturally denied any racist intent, as the historian Edwin Black writes in War Against the Weak: Eugenics and America’s Campaign to Create a Master Race. “‘One drop of negro blood makes the negro’ is no longer a theory based on race pride or color prejudice, but a logically induced, scientific fact,” the groups claimed, adding that their objective was to maintain “the supremacy of the white race in the United States of America, without racial prejudice or hatred.” Got that?

Despite McCarthy’s effort to distance the GOP from the America First Caucus document, it’s clear that prominent Trumpist officials and intellectuals, some of them descended from the very immigrant groups Anglo-Saxon was intended to vilify, agree with some of the presumptions of Anglo-Saxonism. The echo of the notion that, as Francis Walker wrote, non-Anglo-Saxons are biologically incapable of “self-care and self-government” can be heard regularly on outlets such as Fox News, where hosts like Tucker Carlson argue that Democrats wish to “replace the current electorate, the voters now casting ballots, with new people, more obedient voters from the Third World.” This is biological determinism, but it’s also simply false.

The document outlining the priorities for the America First Caucus, a name with an equally odious pedigree, makes similar arguments. “An important distinction between post-1965 immigrants and previous waves of settlers is that previous cohorts were more educated, earned higher wages, and did not have an expansive welfare state to fall back on when they could not make it in America and thus did not stay in the country at the expense of the native-born,” the document reads.

This is utter fantasy. European immigrants at the turn of the century faced nothing like the restrictions that prospective immigrants face today, let alone the immense, militarized deportation machine Americans have come to accept. They were poor, uneducated, and didn’t even need to speak English to enter the country; a minuscule fraction were excluded. The distinction between immigration before and after 1965 is that in that year, the U.S. repealed restrictions based on race and ethnicity that almost entirely prevented immigration from Asia and Africa. The America First Caucus document’s falsehoods about post-1965 immigration echo Anglo-Saxonism’s pseudoscientific presumptions that recent immigrants are somehow qualitatively incapable of “self-care and self-government.”

The 2020 election showed that the Republican Party could embrace conservative positions, even on immigration, and still appeal to Latino voters. But the ideological predilections of Anglo-Saxonism definitionally exclude that part of the Republican base, sending a clear message that they and other voters of color are unwelcome in the party, and threatening those electoral gains. They replace a message of restriction, or even law and order, with one rooted in racial purity.

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Wednesday Morning Male Beauty


The Republican Party is Beyond Saving

Donald Trump may be out of office and some aspects of Washington, D.C., have returned to a semblance of normalcy and we have an occupant of the White House who doesn't actively fan hatred and division and who can actually speak in complete sentences above a third grade level.  Among Republicans, however, the distemper and insanity that defined Trump continues as Republican elected officials try to out prostitute themselves to the white supremacists, delusional evangelicals and conspiracy theory devotees - the three overlap and are largely one and the same.  The pillars of the GOP now are science denial, overt racism, and the embrace of authoritarianism.  In Congress, Senator John Cornyn, Senator Ron Johnson (pictured above), and the always despicable Rep. Jim Jordan (who seemingly ignored the sexual abuse of students at Ohio State) personify the deep sickness that pervades the GOP.  Indeed, Cornyn's belittling of Joe Biden for not engaging in Trump's batshit crazy Twitter tweets and and tidal wave of outright lies shows the moral and intellectual bankruptcy of the GOP and sets the stage for a column by a former Republican who finds the GOP beyond saving.  Here are column highlights:

[W]hat is even more disturbing about Cornyn’s tweet is the upside-down assumption that it’s normal for a president to spew deranged, ungrammatical, abusive tweets — and that there is something wrong with a president who refuses to do so. Most people thought that President Donald Trump’s tweets were bonkers — but for a large portion of the GOP, they have now become the standard by which his successors will be judged. Republicans have gone down the rabbit hole where sanity and sobriety are inexplicable and indeed suspicious.

This is a sign of how the Republican Party is adjusting to post-Trump life. It has embraced Trumpism without Trump. This is not really a set of policy preferences; the GOP in 2020 passed on a platform beyond allegiance to the Orange Emperor’s whims. It is more of a mindless, obnoxious attitude — it’s all about “owning the libs,” spreading conspiracy theories, and waging culture wars as a way to rile up the rabid base and keep the cash register ringing.

Three of the major tenets of the Trumpified GOP have been on public view the past week — if you can bear to watch.

Hostility to science: Watch the video of Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) yapping at Anthony S. Fauci, one of the nation’s leading infectious-disease experts, like an enraged Chihuahua. . . . . Fauci tried to explain that restrictions could be lifted as infection rates got lower. But for Jordan, this had nothing to do with eliciting information — it was all about showing his contempt for a leading scientist and demonstrating that he is much more exercised about prudent public health restrictions than about a virus that has already killed more than 567,000 Americans. It’s no surprise that vaccination rates are lower in counties that Trump won than in counties that voted for Biden.

Racism: Some of the most pro-Trump members of the House tried last week to start an America First Caucus. “White People First” is more like it: Their manifesto declared that “America is a nation with a border, and a culture, strengthened by a common respect for uniquely Anglo-Saxon political traditions. History has shown that societal trust and political unity are threatened when foreign citizens are imported en-masse into a country.” There was so much blowback that the America Firsters backed off. But, as my colleague Aaron Blake notes, the white supremacist “replacement theory” — which claims that shadowy elites are importing people of color to replace native-born Whites — has gained wide adherence in the GOP. It has been pushed recently by everyone from Fox News’s Tucker Carlson to Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), who recently wondered (there’s that question again!) if Democrats “want to remake the demographics of America to ensure — that they stay in power forever.”

Authoritarianism: The Big Lie has become Republican orthodoxy — just like tax cuts and conservative judges. Polls show that 78 percent of Republicans don’t think Biden legitimately won and 51 percent say Congress “did not go far enough” to support “Trump’s efforts to overturn the election.” Little wonder that so many 2022 aspirants — including leading Republican Senate candidates in Ohio, Alabama, Missouri and North Carolina — are pushing the falsehood of the stolen election. The willingness to deny the election outcome — and thereby to reject democracy itself — has become the new litmus test for Republican primary voters.

This is by no means the whole of the GOP — but the Trumpy wing is by far the most vocal, militant and important. The “mainstream,” by contrast, is weak, vacillating and uncertain. Former House speaker John A. Boehner is a case in point: He denounces the “crazies” who have taken over, but he admits that in 2020 he voted for Trump — the leader of the crazies — because “I thought that his policies, by and large, mirrored the policies that I believed in.”

As I’ve said before, this is a party that is beyond salvation.

More Tuesday Male Beauty


A Sense of Relief After Derek Chauvin’s Conviction

Except for white supremacists and Trump Republicans - the two are increasingly synonymous - I suspect most Americans felt a sense of profound relief as they learned that former police officer Derek Chauvin had been found guilty on all counts.  While hardly a sign that police brutality against minorities is at an end or that police will cease defending or remaining silent concerning the bad apples in their ranks, hopefully Chauvin's conviction will be a starting point for a national transition where all lives, not just white lives, matter and police forces will begin better screening their personnel and juries will cease literally allowing murders to go unpunished. Federal legislation - such as the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act pending in Congress - would be helpful in avoiding a scatter shot state by state approach to the issue.  When and if Republican hearts and minds can change remains to be seen. A column in the Washington Post looks at the verdict and where the nation needs to move toward.  Here are column highlights:

Justice has finally been served. Unlike so many other cases of cops who committed acts of brutality, former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted Tuesday on two counts of murder and one count of manslaughter in the death of George Floyd last May.

The verdict came after less than two days of deliberation by the jury, as many Americans held their collective breath. After watching the trial in full (if they could stomach seeing those fateful nine minutes over and over again), only the most hardened racists would be upset by the conviction.

Just hours before, President Biden, after speaking with Floyd’s family, told reporters: “I’m praying the verdict is the right verdict, which is, I think — it’s overwhelming in my view.” He added, “I wouldn’t say that unless the jury was sequestered now.”

Fortunately, the verdict came swiftly and vindicated Biden’s assessment of the trial. (The contrived flap over California Rep. Maxine Waters’s statement calling for “confrontational” protests — an essential theme in civil rights advocacy — when she clearly referred to peaceful demonstrations is symptomatic of Republicans’ determination not to recognize systemic racism.)

The Chauvin evidence was overwhelming — so overwhelming that the potential of an acquittal from the jury is a reminder of just how difficult it is to come by such a verdict in police violence cases. Had the entire episode not been caught on camera and a flock of witnesses not been present, a criminal case might not have even been prosecuted — as happened following incidents involving Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Breonna Taylor and countless other African Americans killed by excessive police force.

But Tuesday’s verdict, which is likely to be appealed, does not mean the overarching problem of racism in policing is resolved. Daunte Wright’s killing in Brooklyn Center, Minn., on April 11 and the lawsuit brought against police by Caron Nazario for abuse during a December traffic stop in Windsor, Va. — both of which occurred during the Chauvin trial — were grim reminders that we need dramatic reform and even wholesale rethinking of our criminal justice system (from policing to sentencing to the disenfranchisement of former inmates).

The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act has passed the House twice, but the Senate remains a barrier because Republicans simply refuse to recognize the existence and scope of the problem. Common-sense measures such as banning chokeholds and no-knock warrants as well as restricting transfer of military weapons to police are an anathema to the GOP, which sees any recognition of the scourge of racism as an affront to its White base. Republicans even respond to noncontroversial measures such as requiring body cameras and implicit bias training with howls of protest.

Republicans’ knee-jerk rejection of modest reforms that promote a small measure of racial justice is intolerable. Senate Democrats would be wise to swiftly put the George Floyd bill on the floor and dare Republicans to filibuster it. It would be a telling and educational moment for voters who have seen for themselves the grotesque defects in our current system. Passage of the bill is both long overdue and critical to slow, if not entirely prevent, the parade of needless deaths of African Americans that leave the country on pins and needles after each of these events. If not, more George Floyds will be inevitable.

Tuesday Morning Male Beauty


Does Jerry Falwell, Jr.'s Pool Boy Have Compromising Photos?

Jerry Falwell, Jr., is the embodiment of the hypocrisy and moral bankruptcy of many of today's evangelicals and self-anointed leaders of the right wing Christian movement.  Lies, hypocrisy, and hatred of others defines these "Christians" who are Christian in  name only and resemble far more the biblical Pharisees.  Thus, it is delicious to see Falwell's fall which has taken on a new phase as Liberty University has filed a $10+ million lawsuit against Falwell. The pleadings in the lawsuit filed by the university suggest there could well be more bombshells coming since it appears that Falwell's young pool boy may have compromising photos and recordings.  One can only hope much more comes out in the course of the trial that not only further discredits Falwell, but also other right wing "leaders" like him.  A piece in Queerty looks at the lawsuit and what may be coming.  Get out the popcorn! Here are excerpts:

More details have emerged in the lawsuit filed against Jerry Falwell Jr. last week by his former employer Liberty University and we have a feeling this is just the tip of the iceberg.

The 74-page lawsuit accuses Falwell of withholding damaging information from the university about that whole pool boy sex scandal last summer and doing irreparable damage to the school’s reputation.

The lawsuit also claims there is an entire “cache” of compromising photos and communications that would be incredibly “harmful” to the disgraced evangelical leader’s family should they ever be released

The salacious materials are allegedly being held by Giancarlo Granda, the pool boy who Jerry and his wife Becki have accused of blackmail after allegedly using him to fulfill their cuckolding fantasy a few years ago.

“Granda threatened to use the surreptitious sexual intimacy, and surrounding conduct, to ’embarrass the Falwells and Liberty University,'” the lawsuit reads. “Granda had amassed considerable leverage over the Falwells, and, accordingly, they worked to keep Granda pacified and quiet.”

Granda is accused of taking x-rated photos and recording his phone calls and FaceTime chats with Becki “for the purpose of enhancing ‘extortion attempts.'”

“Granda had access to plenty of material that could have been deeply damaging to Falwell Jr. in the eyes of the evangelical community,” the lawsuit states. “Falwell Jr. and Granda both knew that matters of infidelity, immodesty and acceptance of a loose lifestyle would stand in stark contrast to the conduct expected of leaders at Liberty.”

In a statement released over the weekend, Falwell called Liberty’s lawsuit against him “yet another attempt to defame me and discredit my record following a series of harsh and unnecessary actions against my children, Becki, and me.”

“I always abided by the requirements that applied to everyone on the University staff. This lawsuit is full of lies and half truths, and I assure you that I will defend myself vigorously,” he proclaimed.

Liberty is seeking millions of dollars in damages, including $10 million in compensatory damages that it wants tripled to $30 million, as permitted under state law in limited circumstances.

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Final Sunday Male Beauty


Queer as Folk Reboot Is a Go

When I began my coming out saga, one of the TV shows that I not only loved, but which helped me find self acceptance was the American version of Queer as Folk  that ran for five seasons and was based on an earlier British show of the same name.  The show had everyday, normal gay characters and focused on their lives and loves and had gay supportive  characters such as "Debbie" played by Sharon Gless - who was much like the real life Debbie at The Wave in Norfolk, a gay club I frequented regularly when I lived at my house in Norfolk (located a mere 7 blocks away) - and basically depicted gays as normal, everyday people just like everyone else. As The Advocate reports, a reboot of the show based in New Orleans rather than Pittsburgh is in  a "go mode."   I look forward to the show and hope it can help others  - especially in anti-gay "red states" - in their coming out process. Ironically, I am now FB friends with Gale Harold  a "bad boy" character in the show.  Here are highlights from The Advocate:

Groundbreaking gay television show Queer as Folk is coming back to TV in a brand new way.

Peacock, the streaming service from NBC and its sister channels, has given creator Stephen Dunn (Little America) a straight-to-series eight-episode order for a new take on Queer as Folk. The new version of the classic show will "explore a diverse group of friends in New Orleans whose lives are transformed in the aftermath of a tragedy."

The orginal British series was created by Russell T. Davies and starred Aidan Gillen, Craig Kelly, and Charlie Hunnam as three gay men living in Manchester, England in the late 1990s.

That was followed by a Showtime series, set in the American Rust Belt city of Pittsburgh, that lasted for five seasons, from 2000 to 2005. It starred Gale Harold, Randy Harrison, Peter Paige, Hal Sparks and Sharon Gless. It was one of the first American TV shows to focus on the lives of gay men; actresses Michelle Clunie and Thea Gill also portrayed a lesbian couple that's part of the men's circle.

"It is a surreal honor to adapt the notoriously groundbreaking series by Russell T. Davies," Dunn said in a press release. "When the show originally aired, the idea of unapologetic queer stories on TV was so provocative that I felt I could only watch Queer as Folk in secret. But so much has changed in the last 20 years and how wonderful would it be if the next generation didn’t have to watch Queer as Folk alone in their dank basements with the sound muted, but with their family and friends and the volume cranked all the way to the max ..."

As the series is set in New Orleans, we are all hoping to see more people of color, and specifically, Black queer men, on this iteration of Queer as Folk. Including trans and more female characters (and their sex scenes!) wouldn't hurt either. But most of all, we're excited to see queer actors play roles where they can be proudly out and get the focus their stories deserve.

More Sunday Male Beauty


Ancient Greece’s Army of Same Sex Lovers

Come September 20, 2021, it will be a decade since the homophobic policy "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" was abolished.  The policy was based on the falsehood that gays would undermine good order and, by implication, gays are incapable of being outstanding warriors.  History provides numerous examples of why the latter is so untrue, including Friedrich Wilhelm August Heinrich Ferdinand von Steuben, the Prussian and later an American Major General of the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War, who had fled Prussia due to his homosexuality. Another example is the Sacred Band of ancient Thebes in Greece which was composed of one hundred fifty couples of same sex lovers which was undefeated until it was destroyed and died to the last man at the battle of Chaeronea where it faced by some reports the Macedonian cavalry under the command of the young Alexander the Great, known for his love of Hephaistion (at the site of Troy, Alexander and Hephaistion honored the lovers Achilles and Patroclus), who he viewed as his own Patroclus.  The burial site of the Sacred Band at Chaeronea is marked by a huge lion statute (shown above left)A new book is coming out that looks at the Sacred Band as reported by The New Yorker:

In June, 1818, during a visit to central Greece, a young English architect named George Ledwell Taylor went out riding with some friends in order to explore the ruins of an ancient town called Chaeronea. As Taylor’s party neared its destination, his horse took a “fearful stumble,” as he later recalled, on a stone in the roadway; on further inspection, he saw that the stone was, in fact, part of a sculpture. Energetic digging eventually revealed an animal head nearly six feet high—or, as Taylor put it, a “colossal head of the Lion.”

That definite article and the capital “L” are crucial. Taylor realized that he had uncovered a famous monument, mentioned in some historical sources but since lost, known as the Lion of Chaeronea. The Englishman had been studying a work called “The Description of Greece,” by Pausanias, a geographer of the second century A.D., which states that the gigantic figure of the sitting animal had been erected to commemorate a remarkable military unit that had perished there. The lion, Pausa­nias surmised, represented “the spirit of the men.”

The unit to which those men belonged was known as the Sacred Band. Comprising three hundred warriors from the city of Thebes, it was among the most fearsome fighting forces in Greece, undefeated until it was wiped out at the Battle of Chaeronea, in 338 B.C.—an engagement during which Philip of Macedon and his son, the ­future Alexander the Great, crushed a coalition of Greek city-states led by Athens and Thebes. Scholars see Chaeronea as the death knell of the Classi­cal Era of Greek history.

Others might find the story interesting for different reasons. Not the least of these is that the Band was composed entirely of lovers: precisely a hundred and fifty couples, whose valor, so the Greeks thought, was due to the fact that no man would ever exhibit cowardice or act dishonorably in front of his beloved. In Plato’s Symposium, a dialogue about love, a character remarks that an army made up of such lovers would “conquer all mankind.”

Sixty years after George Taylor’s horse stumbled, further excavations revealed a large rectangular burial site near the Lion. Drawings that were made at the site show seven rows of skeletons, two hundred and fifty-four in all. For “The Sacred Band” (Scribner), a forthcoming book by the classicist James Romm, the illustrator Markley Boyer collated those nineteenth-century drawings to produce a reconstruction of the entire mass grave. Black marks indicate wounds. A number of warriors were buried with arms linked; if you look closely, you can see that some were holding hands. 

Sunday Morning Male Beauty


"Legally Purchased" Assault Rifles Used in Latest Mass Shooting

Reports are that the latest mass shooting that left eight (8) people dead took only a few minutes.  How so many deaths in two or three minutes?  Easy answer, the shooter had assault rifles that had yet again been legally purchased under Indiana's obviously inadequate gun laws. Despite the bloviating of the NRA and gun nuts, assault rifles have one purpose: to kill lots of people quickly.  They have no legitimate reason whatsoever to be in hands of civilians.  There is even less reason for them to be in the hands of someone with mental health issues such as the shooter in Indianapolis, yet America continues to (i) put the monetary interests of gun manufacturers over the safety of the public, and (ii) have a pathetic mental health system, with many health insurance plans providing minimal coverage.  The simple reality is that assault weapons need to be banned and those in private hands confiscated/bought back.  Until this happens, the carnage and needless deaths will continue.    We also need strict liability applied to gun owners so that (i) an owner is liable for any death or injury caused by a gun in their ownership, and (ii) insurance companies will cease writing insurance on homes with one or more guns in them.  If pit bulls can be reason for carriers to refuse coverage, even more so guns.  A piece in the Washington Post looks at the latest failure of the nation's gun laws.  Here are excerpts:

The 19-year-old gunman who fatally shot eight people at a FedEx plant Thursday used two legally purchased assault rifles, police said Saturday, raising new questions as many call for tighter restrictions on powerful firearms and more safeguards on who can own them.

Police said the shooter, a former employee at the facility, bought rifles legally last July and September — months after his mother said she feared her son would attempt “suicide by cop.” That led authorities to question Brandon Hole, temporarily detain him for mental health reasons and seize his shotgun. The gun was not returned, officials say.

Yet Hole went on to obtain more firearms, despite Indiana’s “red flag” law aimed at keeping such weapons out of the hands of potentially dangerous people. Under that law, a measure adopted and debated in many states, officials can confiscate someone’s weapon and then argue to a judge that the person should be prevented for some time from having a gun. Indianapolis police said Saturday night that they cannot say why Hole was not barred from purchasing the weapons under red flag laws or whether authorities had pursued it.

The victims of Thursday’s shooting ranged in age from 19 to 74, including a recent high school graduate with basketball talent and a 68-year-old Indian immigrant who loved long walks around his neighborhood. Four members of the Sikh community were killed. The massacre also hospitalized at least five people, with one in critical condition, according to the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department.

Hole was known to law enforcement: Last spring, according to a brief statement released Friday by the FBI, his mother called police with fears of “suicide by cop,” and Hole was interviewed after items of an undisclosed nature were found in his bedroom. But authorities have released few details about that investigation.

Police would not say Saturday where Hole bought the rifles he used in his attack.

Under Indiana’s red flag measure, authorities have two weeks after seizing a gun to go before a judge. But a red flag case can stretch months as the person who lost the firearm makes their own case, Marion County Prosecutor Ryan Mears told a local news station last February. During that time, the person can buy another gun — a “loophole” that Mears urged lawmakers to fix.

“There is nothing preventing a person from purchasing, using or borrowing a firearm from someone else while their case is pending,” Mears told Fox 59 last year. “The law only applies to the dangerous firearm the person had access to when the officer interacted with them.”

A person who knew Hole said he had suffered from mental illness, and said he did not get the treatment he needed.

Authorities may need time to piece together a “psychological autopsy” of the gunman, said Christopher Ferguson, a Stetson University professor of psychology who is an expert on mass shootings.

He said a common feature in many mass shootings is that the perpetrator has an untreated or undiagnosed mental illness and is an “injustice collector” who blames some group, or society generally, for all that has gone wrong in the person’s life.

“Other people are screwing them over. Society is evil. Society is hurtful. They are emotionally crushed by their relationship with society, and they’re very angry about it. So they want to die, but they want to bring other people with them,” Ferguson said.

The massacre has recharged the political debate about gun laws, with President Biden calling for a ban on military-style semiautomatic rifles and limits on ammunition cartridges. Some local leaders demanded new laws to keep weapons out of the hands of people known to pose a public threat.

Indianapolis City-County Council member Ali Brown (D) renewed a call Saturday for lawmakers to ban military-style assault weapons.

Also disturbing is the reality that "injustice collector" could well describe much of the GOP base.