Saturday, May 29, 2021

Saturday Morning Male Beauty


Big Oil May At Last Be Facing a Tipping Point

To anyone outside the ignorance embracing Republican party base and leaders of oil and coal companies more concerned about making a short term bank than whether coastal cities flood parts of the world run out of water (e.g., the American Southwest where reservoirs are under 40% capacity), climate change is real and needs to be addressed now.  Even auto makers are increasingly all in on electric vehicles, including Ford with its new electric version of the F-150 pickup truck.  And this past week, fossil fuel giants -including Exxon which like "big tobacco" of old funded deliberately false climate "research" - found themselves faced with shareholder uprisings and court rulings that could begin to force them to diversify away from oil, gas and coal.  Will it be enough to cause a desperately needed shift to avoid catastrophe?   Only time will tell.  A piece in the New York Times looks at some of the strikes against big oil in particular.  Here are highlights:

A nun, an environmental lawyer, pension fund executives, and the world’s largest asset manager. These were among the unusual collection of rebels who claimed a series of startling victories this week against some of the world’s biggest and most influential fossil fuel companies.

From Houston to The Hague, they fought their battles in shareholder meetings and courtrooms, opening surprising fronts in an accelerating effort to force the world’s coal, oil and gas companies to address their central role in the climate crisis. And . . . . they delivered a common underlying message: The time to start retreating from the fossil fuel business is no longer in the future, but now.

“These companies are facing pressure from regulators, investors, and now the courts to up their game,” said Will Nichols, head of environmental research at Maplecroft, a risk analysis firm.

The most dramatic turning point came in the Netherlands, where a court instructed Royal Dutch Shell, the largest private oil trader in the world and by far the largest company in the Netherlands itself, that it must sharply cut greenhouse gas emissions from all its global operations this decade. It was the first time a court ordered a private company to, in effect, change its business practice on climate grounds.

The symbolism was inescapable: The Netherlands, famously built on land reclaimed from the sea, faces the immediate threat from a warming climate caused by the burning of Shell’s own products — oil and gas.

In another example this week, at the annual shareholder meeting of Exxon Mobil, the biggest American oil company, the message was framed sharply in terms of profits: A tiny new hedge fund led an investor rebellion to diversify away from oil and gas — or risk hurting investors and the bottom line.

Chevron’s shareholders voted to tell the company to reduce not only its own emissions, but also, remarkably, the emissions produced by customers who burn its oil and gasoline. And in Australia, a judge warned the government that a proposed coal mine expansion, a project challenged by eight teenagers and an 86-year-old nun, would need to ensure that it wouldn’t harm the health of the country’s children.

The timing was significant. This week scientists also concluded that, in the next five years, the average global temperature will at least temporarily spike beyond a dangerous threshold, climbing more than 1.5 degrees Celsius, or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit, warmer than in pre-industrial times. Avoiding that threshold is the main objective of the Paris Accord, the landmark global climate agreement among the nations of the world to fight climate change.

[N]one of these actions represents an immediate threat to the fossil fuel industry. For a century and a half, the global economy has been fueled by oil and coal, and that won’t change immediately.

Nevertheless, rulings like the one in the Netherlands could be a harbinger for similar legal attacks against other fossil fuel companies and their investors, experts said. Kate Raworth, an economist at Oxford University, called Shell’s loss in court “a social tipping point for a fossil-fuel-free future.”

If the ruling of the lower court stands, though, analysts said, Shell would most certainly have to reorient its business to reduce oil in its portfolio and halt its growth in liquefied natural gas, in which Shell is an industry leader. That is a matter of concern for the investors who have their money in the oil and gas reserves of companies like Shell, . . . .

Dangerously for Shell, the national judiciary of the Netherlands in the past has shown itself to be among the most out-front on climate litigation. In 2019, the Supreme Court of the Netherlands ordered the government to cut greenhouse gas emissions because of a lawsuit filed by Urgenda, an environmental group. It was the first case in the world to force a national government to address climate change in order to uphold its human rights commitments. 

Friday, May 28, 2021

Friday Morning Male Beauty


Ron DeSantis' Hypocrisy Filled War on the Cruise Industry

The husband and I love cruises - we had two cancelled due to the pandemic, one last year and one this year - and look forward to cruises returning.  We like many, would feel more secure if our fellow passengers were all vaccinated for Covid-19 and from a public health perspective requiring passengers to be vaccinated makes complete sense and, indeed, is the responsible response of cruise lines. To the demented governor of Florida who seems to embrace ignorance as point of honor, prohibiting right wing anti-vaccine nut cases from endangering others is an affront to "freedom."    The hypocrisy, of course, is that Desantis and other Republicans support the right of businesses to refuse to serve gay couples - to honor the religious beliefs and "religious freedom" - yet now want to prevent businesses from barring those carrying a deadly disease as horrifying.   The dust up puts the insanity and hypocrisy of Republicans on sharp display.  Personally, I wish cruise lines would leave Florida - Norfolk could handle additional ships - and hand that state a severe financial hit that might convince voters to send Desantis into forced retirement.  A piece in New York Magazine looks at the controversy.  Here are highlights:

A few years ago, conservatives became obsessed with the legal travails of a bakery that refused to sell a wedding cake to a gay couple. Until its more recent eclipse by cancel culture, the anti-gay bakery was the premier symbol of conservative cultural martyrdom. And, to be sure, the case did pit two sympathetic values against each other: on the one hand, a gay couple’s right to enjoy the same ability as a straight couple to walk into a bakery and order a wedding cake, and on the other, an individual business owner’s freedom of conscience to abstain from actively endorsing ideas they disagree with.

Now we are facing a different kind of conflict between freedom of contract and the government. In this case, the conflict revolves around state requirements that businesses allow unvaccinated people as customers, even if the business operates in tight indoor quarters. Only now the Republican Party stands firmly on the side of heavy-handed state regulation.

Several Republican-run states have enacted laws forbidding private businesses from requiring proof of vaccination. The reductio ad absurdum of this stance comes via Florida governor Ron DeSantis, who is threatening to block a cruise line from resuming service if it requires passengers to be vaccinated.  But the law DeSantis signed in Florida would impose a fine of $5,000 per person required to show proof of vaccination, and the governor says he will not back down.

Cruise ships are, of course, a well-known vector for the coronavirus. They inherently pack a lot of people into a confined space, and have terrifyingly high rates of infection. Aside from the public-health ramifications, it’s difficult to imagine cruises luring anything close to their pre-pandemic number of customers without being able to give them the assurance that their fellow passengers will be vaccinated.

The DeSantis position is that both the public interest in suppressing virus transmission, and the private interest of businesses in protecting their workforce and reassuring customers, are overridden by an even more compelling interest: safeguarding the rights of individuals who refuse to get vaccinated.

And keep in mind, nobody is even contemplating requiring anybody to take a vaccine. The question is whether you can refuse the vaccine and still walk into any room you wish, whether or not the owner of that room and the other people there want you. DeSantis believes your right to breathe infected germs on other people trumps every other right at issue.

Suppose you owned a bakery. And instead of refusing to sell a couple a cake because it’s for a gay wedding, you refuse to sell them a cake because they are potentially carrying a deadly virus into your shop that may infect or kill you, your fellow employees, or your customers. Conservatives say the state can force you to make that transaction anyway. Objecting to their homosexuality is a legitimate basis for excluding them, but objecting to their potential transmission of a deadly virus is not.

Why, it’s almost as if the right of individual conscience or freedom of contract was never the basis for the Republican position at all.

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Thursday Morning Male Beauty


Mitch McConnell Admits to Putting Party Over Country

Mitch "Moscow Mitch" McConnell continues to inflict harm on America and work against the best interests as he puts his political party - and his own personal power - above all else.  With luck, history will view him as an evil individual in the same league as Donald Trump.  Opposition to Democrats and regaining GOP power, no matter the cost, is his sole agenda save continuing to enrich himself and his wife's family. It is far past time that Democrat law makers - and truly patriotic voters who place country over party - recognize this reality and the evil that McConnell and the promoters of the "Big Lie" represent.  McConnell's efforts to depict Joe Biden as mentally unfit are beyond ironic when he continues to prostitute himself to Trump, a man clearly suffering from severe mental issues.  This need to face reality of what today's GOP represents applies in spades to Senators Joe Manchin and Krysten Sinema  who hold delusions about bi-partisanship efforts.  A column in the Washington Post looks at McConnell's betrayal of the country and the interests of the majority of Americans.  Here are excepts:

It has long been obvious that Mitch McConnell puts party before country, but this week he actually admitted it.

The Senate minority leader told Republican colleagues that they should oppose the creation of a Jan. 6 commission, no matter how it is structured, because it “could hurt the party’s midterm election message,” as Politico’s Burgess Everett reported.

And so, as early as Thursday, McConnell will use the filibuster to thwart a bipartisan effort to prevent further attacks on the U.S. government by domestic terrorists — because he thinks it’s good politics for Republicans.

“That is extremely frustrating and disturbing,” Sen. Joe Manchin (W.Va.), the Democrat working hardest to protect the minority’s filibuster rights, told reporters. “There’s a time when you rise above [politics], and I’m hoping that this would be the time that he would do that. I guess, from what I am hearing, he hasn’t.”

Manchin has every right to be disturbed. But he shouldn’t be surprised.

McConnell, asked this month about the ouster of Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) from GOP leadership, and whether he was concerned that many Republicans believe Donald Trump’s election lie, replied, twice: “One hundred percent of my focus is on stopping this new administration.” True to his word, McConnell has blocked everything — even if it means undercutting Republican negotiators.

In addition to denouncing the Jan. 6 commission bill, negotiated by the ranking Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee, McConnell undercut Tim Scott (S.C.), the lone Black Republican in the Senate and McConnell’s designee to negotiate policing legislation. McConnell upended negotiations by announcing opposition to any bill that doesn’t preserve qualified immunity for police.

This week, McConnell disrupted progress on a broadly bipartisan bill designed to improve American technological competitiveness against China. Even though Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) had followed “regular order” and allowed Republicans to amend the bill, McConnell threatened to filibuster the bill if Democrats didn’t slow the process further.

Why? Because unrelenting obstruction is McConnell’s only way to placate the GOP base in the face of Trump’s attacks. The former president has called McConnell, among other things, a “dumb son of a bitch,” a “dour, sullen and unsmiling political hack,” “gutless and clueless,” “weak and pathetic,” a “stone-cold loser,” and a leader Republicans “should change.” The attacks must be rattling McConnell, for he has been unusually clumsy in his appeals to the Trumpian base.

He earned an extraordinary rebuke from the University of Louisville (the Kentuckian’s alma mater and home to the McConnell Center) when he declared that it was an “exotic notion” to believe that 1619 — the year in which slaves arrived in the American colonies — is among “the most important dates in American history.”

On the infrastructure bill, he and his Republican colleagues are using the same techniques they used to try to derail the covid-relief legislation earlier this year: suggesting that Biden is a marionette manipulated by his staff. It’s just another way of planting the notion that Biden is mentally unfit.

The insulting implication that Biden is not in control, coming from his longtime Senate colleagues, would naturally anger Biden. So why try to undercut Biden in such a personal way? To poison the well as negotiators make a rare attempt at bipartisanship.

Maybe Manchin will be disturbed by this, too. He is still trying to negotiate on infrastructure, and to get 10 Republicans to support a Jan. 6 commission and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. More power to him. But sooner or later, he’ll have to conclude that there’s no negotiating when McConnell has a 100 percent focus on obstruction.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

More Wednesday Male Beauty


Will Virginia Remain Blue in 2021?

Being politically active in Virginia is exhausting given that we have elections every year - federal elections in even numbered years and state elections in odd numbered years.  In 2021, all statewide offices are up for election as is the entire House of Delegates.  The November, 2021 elections will determine whether or not Virginia continues its trend as a blue state and whether the progress of the last four years - Medicaid expansion, increases in the minimum wage, expansive LGBT protections, protection of voting rights, and other progressive policies - are undone if the Trump loving Republican Party of Virginia were to win the governorship and regain control of the General Assembly.  Much is at risk and in Glenn Youngkin, the Virginia GOP has a reactionary stealth candidate who will market himself as a moderate - something that is utterly false and reflected by his strong support within The Family Foundation, Virginia's leading hate group with a lineage that goes back to open segregationists. A piece in The Atlantic looks at the coming election contest and the urgency of Democrats to mobilize to protect all of the progress which has been made.  Now is not the time for exhaustion or complacency.  Here are article highlights:

One of the biggest questions facing Democrats right now is whether, after four years of fevered anti-Trump activism and record-setting political engagement, they can sustain that energy during the Biden presidency. More specifically: Was the dramatic leftward shift of suburban voters in recent elections merely a Trump-era phenomenon, or did it represent a more permanent change? The answer might come sooner than you’d think. Voters in Virginia, whose population is concentrated in suburban areas, will head to the polls in November to decide their next governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, and state delegates, such as Gooditis. The election offers the first test of the Democrats’ new post-Trump coalition.

Virginia is “a great signal for how the midterm is gonna go,” Chaz Nuttycombe, the director of CNalysis, an election-forecasting group based in Virginia, told me. “There is no Trump tailwind for the Democrats to ride.”

Virginia has been an important bellwether before. The 2017 gubernatorial race between the Republican Ed Gillespie and the Democrat Ralph Northam was widely viewed as a referendum on Trump’s election; Northam won by nine points. The following year, three Democrats—Jennifer Wexton, Abigail Spanberger, and Elaine Luria—unseated Republican incumbents to help Democrats take back the U.S. House. Virginia Democrats won a majority in the state’s House of Delegates in 2019 for the first time in two decades, giving them full control of state government. Last year, thanks in large part to the leftward drift of suburban voters, Joe Biden won Virginia by 10 points—the biggest margin for a Democratic nominee since Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1944.

Through each of these elections, the left was energized in a way it hadn’t been in recent years. After Trump’s victory, dozens of groups dedicated to building Democratic political power—most of them created and led by women—popped up all over Virginia. Moderate Republicans and independents, including many suburbanites, who were repulsed by the president voted for Democrats—some for the first time in their life. “Democrats would not have the trifecta if Trump had lost in 2016,” Nuttycombe told me.

It’s still too early to know whether Democrats should despair without their motivating man. The Democratic primary is still a couple weeks away, on June 8, and Democrats have time to get organized before November. But Republicans already seem positioned to perform better in Virginia than they have for the past four years. Virginia voters tend to elect governors from the opposite party of the one in power, and a Democrat is currently sitting in the White House. Democratic voters also tend to turn out in lower numbers than Republicans in off-year elections; already, early-voting turnout for the Democratic primary has been low.

Democrats, and activists especially, are tired after four years spent dutifully knocking on doors and begging strangers to please vote. Marianne Burke, a 67-year-old retiree who leads the Democratic group Fairfax Indivisible, has noticed a clear decline in volunteer engagement since Biden’s win. In February, she struggled to get group members to help mail postcards reminding Virginians to register to vote, and she had to write hundreds of them herself. She gets it: “There’s not this urgency. You don’t wake up in the morning and say, My God, what’s [Trump] gonna do today?” she told me. “I’m cautiously optimistic” that Democrats will rally in time to help Democrats win in November, she added. “But it is so nice to not have to constantly worry … so I can understand why they wouldn’t want to.”

Some races in Northern Virginia, like Gooditis’s, could be close. (She’s running unopposed in next month’s primary; her Republican opponent, Nick Clemente, is already outraising her.) Republicans also have a chance to win at least a few seats near Richmond and Virginia Beach. At the statewide level, the gubernatorial race between the Republican Glenn Youngkin and a soon-to-be-nominated Democrat could go either way, election analysts told me. (Former Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe is the front-runner.) Youngkin can win if Democratic turnout in November is low, and if he can earn the support of a few of the suburbanites who couldn’t stomach Trump.

Persuading them shouldn’t be difficult, argues Tom Davis, a former GOP lawmaker from Virginia, because Youngkin, the former CEO of the private-equity firm the Carlyle Group, appeals to suburban sensibilities.

State Democrats plan to defend their progress with suburbanites by talking about Trump and Trumpism as much as possible. At a press conference in Alexandria last week, party leaders underlined the fact that Donald Trump has endorsed Youngkin. They referred to the Virginia Republican Party as the “Virginia Trump Party,” and warned voters against supporting the “Trump-Youngkin agenda.” Down the ballot, Gooditis is prepared to defend herself against negative ads by reminding voters of the events of January 6. “It’s very easy for us to say, ‘Yeah, but they supported the guy who told people to attack the U.S. Capitol. So who are you going to listen to?’” she said.

Democrats also want Virginians to remember that, under their leadership, the state expanded Medicaid, raised the minimum wage, passed voting-rights legislation, and abolished the death penalty. “We have spent years fighting for these issues; voters aren’t going to let Donald Trump and his Virginia GOP allies drag us backwards,” Andrew Whitley, the executive director of the Virginia Democratic Party, said in a statement. This legislative progress will give people a reason to vote for Democrats rather than against someone else, Luisa Boyarski, the associate director of the Center for Public & Nonprofit Leadership at Georgetown University and the leader of the Virginia Grassroots Coalition, told me.

After Gooditis unleashed her volunteers on the leafy streets of Leesburg—and knocked on a few doors herself—she and I stood together in the parking lot of a local public library and talked about the enthusiasm required to sustain a political campaign. In 2017, 70 volunteers showed up in the pouring rain for one of her canvassing events. Once she’d given them their assignments, a school bus pulled up with another 45 volunteers, all college students. She doesn’t anticipate that level of passion this year. “The Trump issue is not so new and so shocking now,” she said. “It’s now more of a quiet determination than it is a squealing throng.”

Wednesday Morning Male Beauty


Republican Acquiescence and Cowardice Threaten Democracy

Racism, white supremacist tendencies and evangelical Christian hatred toward others are not new phenomenon in the right wing political universe.  Indeed, when I ran for public office (as a Republican) over a quarter of a century ago, the Christian Coalition was a very real presence in local politics, especially low turnout local elections.  Back then, however, the leadership of the Republican Party constrained the insanity of the extremists and, equally importantly, extremists were not allowed to secure leadership positions within the party and concerted efforts were made to ensure that extremists - think Marjorie Taylor Greene - did not win nominations to run as candidates.  Since that time, extremists (especially Christofascists) have been welcomed into all levels of the Republican Party and the party leadership - the elites, if you will - have surrendered to the extremists and open racism, far right Christian extremism, and outright misogyny now runs rampant to a point that America's democracy could well end within the next four (4) years.  The issue is how do wake the majority of Americans to the reality of the threat.  A column in the New York Times looks at the frightening place we find ourselves in.  Here are highlights:

America’s democratic experiment may well be nearing its end. That’s not hyperbole; it’s obvious to anyone following the political scene. Republicans might take power legitimately; they might win through pervasive voter suppression; G.O.P. legislators might simply refuse to certify Democratic electoral votes and declare Donald Trump or his political heir the winner. However it plays out, the G.O.P. will try to ensure a permanent lock on power and do all it can to suppress dissent.

But how did we get here? We read every day about the rage of the Republican base, which overwhelmingly believes, based on nothing, that the 2020 election was stolen, and extremists in Congress, who insist that being required to wear a face mask is the equivalent of the Holocaust

Conspiracy theorizing is hardly a new thing in our national life; Richard Hofstadter wrote “The Paranoid Style in American Politics” back in 1964. White rage has been a powerful force at least since the civil rights movement.

What’s different this time is the acquiescence of Republican elites. The Big Lie about the election didn’t well up from the grass roots — it was promoted from above, initially by Trump himself, but what’s crucial is that almost no prominent Republican politicians have been willing to contradict his claims and many have rushed to back them up.

[T]he fundamental problem lies less with the crazies than with the careerists; not with the madness of Marjorie Taylor Greene, but with the spinelessness of Kevin McCarthy. And this spinelessness has deep institutional roots.

Political scientists have long noted that our two major political parties are very different in their underlying structures. The Democrats are a coalition of interest groups — labor unions, environmentalists, L.G.B.T.Q. activists and more. The Republican Party is the vehicle of a cohesive, monolithic movement. . . . . the ideology of movement conservatism seems less obvious than its will to power.

All Republicans had to do was follow the party line. Loyalty would be rewarded with safe seats, and should a Republican in good standing somehow happen to lose an election, support from billionaires meant that there was a safety net . . . .in the form of chairs at lavishly funded right-wing think tanks, gigs at Fox News and so on.

Of course, the easy life of a professional Republican wasn’t appealing to everyone. The G.O.P. has long been an uncomfortable place for people with genuine policy expertise and real external reputations, who might find themselves expected to endorse claims they knew to be false.

The field I know best, economics, contains (or used to contain) quite a few Republicans with solid academic reputations. . . . . But the G.O.P. has consistently preferred to get its advice from politically reliable cranks.

Matters may be even worse for politicians who actually care about policy, still have principles and have personal constituencies separate from their party affiliation. There’s no room in today’s G.O.P. for the equivalent of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, unless you count the extremely sui generis Mitt Romney.

And the predominance of craven careerists is what made the Republican Party so vulnerable to authoritarian takeover.

Surely a great majority of Republicans in Congress know that the election wasn’t stolen. Very few really believe that the storming of the Capitol was a false-flag antifa operation or simply a crowd of harmless tourists. But decades as a monolithic, top-down enterprise have filled the G.O.P. with people who will follow the party line wherever it goes.

So if Trump or a Trump-like figure declares that we have always been at war with East Asia, well, his party will say that we’ve always been at war with East Asia. If he says he won a presidential election in a landslide, never mind the facts, they’ll say he won the election in a landslide.

The point is that neither megalomania at the top nor rage at the bottom explains why American democracy is hanging by a thread. Cowardice, not craziness, is the reason government by the people may soon perish from the earth.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Tuesday Morning Male Beauty


The Southern Baptist Convention Suffers Historic Loses in Membership

A number of articles have opined that evangelical Christianity has become a political identity rather than a spiritual identity.  That political identity has focused on backing the Republican Party but even more so in engaging in the cult of the personality demanded by Donald Trump, an individual who is the antithesis of Christian principles.  Those who actually hold true to endeavoring to follow Christ's principles find themselves increasingly unwelcome within evangelical circles including the Southern Baptist convention which saw the largest loss of membership in its history last year as well as new baptism plummet by 50%.  While the Covid-19 pandemic may have fueled some of the numbers - older members literally died off and church closed to service did not conduct baptisms - signs suggest the SBA's doubling down on its political agenda may be driving members away as well, a case in point being Russell Moore who announced last Tuesday that he will be leaving the leadership of the Southern Baptist Convention where he has been the president of its policy arm since 2013.  A piece in the Washington Post looks at Moore's departure which appears motivated by his opposition to Trump.  Here are article excerpts:

Prominent Southern Baptist leader Russell Moore, who blasted former president Donald Trump and his evangelical fans, announced Tuesday that he will be leaving the leadership of the Southern Baptist Convention where he has been the president of its policy arm since 2013.

Moore’s departure from the convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) follows other high-profile exits from the denomination, including popular Bible teacher Beth Moore (no relation) and Black pastors. Some evangelicals are wondering what their departures signal about the direction of the convention, which has included louder voices on the far right in recent years.

Russell Moore will be joining the staff of Christianity Today, the evangelical magazine . . .
Moore was an early critic of Trump and accused other evangelical leaders of “normalizing an awful candidate.” When other Southern Baptist leaders met with the then-presidential candidate at Trump Tower in 2016, Moore suggested they had “drunk the Kool-Aid.”

During his time at the ERLC, Moore led the charge on key issues for Southern Baptists, including abortion and religious freedom, but he also befriended several Black Christian artists, openly advocated for immigration reform and led the convention’s response to allegations of sexual abuse within the denomination. In recent months, he has urged evangelicals to get vaccinated against the coronavirus. . . . but after Trump won in 2016, Moore became quiet on many hot-button political topics. On Jan. 6, however, he called on Trump to resign over the riot at the U.S. Capitol.

“It was 2016 and the evangelical world was turning upside down and he had the guts — or the gall, depending on how you saw it — to [call out Trump],” she said.

Beth Moore, who received her own backlash for speaking against Trump, said they were both “reeling from what appeared to us a profoundly compromised witness playing out on a global stage. The backlash Russell received for speaking out was swift, severe and unrelenting.”

“If he would not bow — and he wouldn’t — there were some who’d do their best to cut his legs out from under him,” she said.

Many younger evangelicals are trying to find ways to move forward in a modern world, where LGBT issues and the Black Lives Matter movement have been at the forefront of social conversations and can make them feel uncomfortable. Many young leaders in the SBC are attempting to chart a modern path but remain conservative theologically, and Moore gave them an example.

Thomas’s SBC church closed permanently during the pandemic, and he no longer affiliates with the denomination. “It’s given us great respite to know we’re not in the SBC anymore. If there isn’t a place for Dr. Moore in the SBC, I don’t think there’s a place for me as a person of color.” Thomas subscribed to CT on Tuesday night after he saw Moore’s announcement.

During Moore’s tenure, the SBC, like the GOP and evangelicalism, has seen the “mainstream” shift to the right, Hankins said. But the Trump years escalated things. Moore, he said, is the public face of the younger faction of the convention, people who don’t want the SBC to be essentially a wing of the GOP.

A piece in Christianity Today also looks at the denomination's shrinking - which is a postive thing, in my view - and the decline in new baptisms.  Here are excerpts:

[O]verall, the denomination experienced another year of decline, with the pandemic accelerating historically steep drops in membership and baptism.

The country’s largest Protestant denomination has been getting smaller for 14 years in a row, down to 14 million after losing 436,000 members last year, according to the Annual Church Profile released Thursday by the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). Baptisms dunked by nearly half year-over-year.

“COVID-19’s effect on 2020 stats is undeniable. Yet 2020 is only the latest year of continued decline in major categories,” tweeted Mike Stone, a pastor in Georgia who is in the upcoming race for SBC president.

Researcher Ryan Burge wrote last year that the generational shift will be the biggest factor accelerating losses in the SBC, as the denomination ages and members die off.

Losing more of its older members due to COVID-19 is likely one factor in the 2020 drop, according to Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research. Membership declined by 2 percent in 2019, the SBC’s biggest drop in a century. Last year—as congregations winnowed inactive members from their rolls and saw fewer people join during shutdowns—the decline was 3 percent.

The annual report comes less than a month before Southern Baptists are scheduled to meet in Nashville in June for their annual meeting, the first since the pandemic. Leaders are expected to address the downward trends in the denomination as well as recent debates over their approach to politics, race, women, and abuse.

“A convention perpetually at war with itself cannot do what God has called it to—pursue the Great Commission,” said outgoing SBC president J. D. Greear in a statement. “There are voices calling us [to] come to Nashville to divide even further over things beyond the scope of our statement of faith and therefore best left to the autonomy of churches. This will surely send us even further into decline.”

May the decline accelerate!

Monday, May 24, 2021

Monday Morning Male Beauty


The Threat of Violence Now Defines the GOP

Some supporters of Donald Trump and his Republican apologists and enablers now use the open threat of violence much as Hitler's brown shirts did in the lead up to Nazi Germany.  Heavily armed "militias" don't just wear combat and tactical gear to show their worship of guns, but rather to instill fear in political opponents. The underlying threat of the use of violence is now an underlying element of the Republican Party's mode of operation.  In addition to trying to rig elections through changes in voting laws to make it harder for perceived Democrat voting populations to vote many of those same voters facing a growing threat of intimidation at the polls. The irony is that by doubling down on voter intimidation and voter disenfranchisement, the GOP is driving more suburban voters into the arms of Democrats as the GOP becomes increasingly made up of scary extremists and religious fanatics.   A column in the Washington Post by a former Republican looks at the dangerous place we find ourselves.  Here are excerpts:

American politics is being conducted under the threat of violence.

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), who has a talent for constructive bluntness, describes a political atmosphere within the GOP heavy with fear. “If you look at the vote to impeach,” she said recently, “there were members who told me that they were afraid for their own security — afraid, in some instances, for their lives.” The events of Jan. 6 have only intensified the alarm. When Donald Trump insists he is “still the rightful president,” Cheney wrote in an op-ed for The Post, he “repeats these words now with full knowledge that exactly this type of language provoked violence on Jan. 6.” And there’s good reason, Cheney argued, “to believe that Trump’s language can provoke violence again.”

Sometimes political events force us to step back in awe, or horror, or both. The (former) third-ranking Republican in the House of Representatives has accused a former president of her party of employing the threat of violence as a tool of intimidation. And election officials around the country — Republican and Democratic — can attest to the results: Death threats. Racist harassment. Armed protesters at their homes.

From one perspective, this is not new. Trump has made a point of encouraging violence against protesters at his rallies (“knock the crap out of them”), excusing violence by his supporters (people "with tremendous passion and love for their country”) and generally acting like a two-bit mob boss.

If Trump has a political philosophy, one of its main tenets is toxic masculinity — the use of menace and swagger to cover his mental and moral impotence. And the mini-Trumps have taken their master’s lead. When Trump operative Stephen K. Bannon proposed that Anthony S. Fauci should be beheaded, when Trump ally Joseph diGenova said a federal cybersecurity official should be “taken out at dawn and shot,” when Trump lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani urged Trump supporters to engage in “trial by combat,” all of this was more than paunchy, pathetic, aging White men talking smack they could never back up. It exemplified a type of politics where cruelty is the evidence of commitment, brutality is the measure of loyalty and violence is equated with power.

This approach to politics is disturbing at any time. But now it has fastened itself upon an object, a project. Rather than trying to win future elections by attracting new voters, Trump Republicans wish to reshape the electoral system to produce more favorable results. Instead of using the 2020 presidential loss as a guide for additional outreach, Trump Republicans want to ensure they can claim and enforce a victory in 2024 with essentially the same vote total as 2020 — probably the high-water mark of the Trump coalition.

In some ways, the Trump movement of authoritarian populism is forward-looking. It eternally relitigates the 2020 election as preparation for the next. Compared with the utter chaos of previous efforts, this time there seems to be a strategy at work. First, undermine Republican confidence in the electoral system and stoke the party’s sense of grievance. Second, modify state election laws to try to discourage Democratic (and particularly minority) turnout. Third, replace or intimidate state election officials who show any hints of independence or integrity.

The first goal has been achieved: In a recent poll, more than two-thirds of Republicans denied the legitimacy of Joe Biden’s election as president. Results on the second goal (so far) have been mixed. Republican “reforms” have made the system marginally less fair than the status quo, but not quite as bad as some feared.

The third goal is where the threat of violence has mattered most. Officials who held the line against electoral corruption in 2020 have been worn down by threats. Some have retired or been forced out of office. State legislators who didn’t act as reliable partisans have been targeted and intimidated. All who resist Trump’s will know they will be singled out by name. They will be exposed to political jeopardy and physical peril, particularly from activists who view the right to bear arms as the right to make armed threats.

This is not a joke. This is not a myth. This is not a drill. According to a survey last year, a majority of Republicans agreed with the statement: “The traditional American way of life is disappearing so fast that we may have to use force to save it.”

Ultimately, it is not enough for political figures to ritually denounce the use of violence while amplifying the lies that lead to violence. The only way to defuse this bomb is to embrace the truth.

Be very, very afraid.

Sunday, May 23, 2021

More Sunday Male Beauty


Former Virginia Republicans Seek to End Trumpism

I have often said that one cannot support Donald Trump and at the same time be a decent, moral person.  The two are simply mutually exclusive.  It seems several former GOP members of Congress have reached the same conclusion and now seek to either (i) reform the GOP away from Trumpism and a cult of the personality akin to what China witnessed under Mao Zedong, a/k/a Chairman Mao, or (ii) possible found a new political party.  The latter approach would hopefully siphon enough votes from the GOP candidates to make Republican victories fewer and allow the anti-Trump moderates to wield enough power to force reform if the party was serious about winning elections as opposed to worship a foul, morally bankrupt sociopath.  Interestingly, some no longer identify themselves as Republicans give what the party brand has come to connotate.  A piece in the Washington Post looks at the phenomenon.  Here are highlights:

Scott Rigell had no hard feelings when he resigned from the Virginia Beach GOP in 2016 after becoming the first Republican member of Congress to endorse Libertarian Gary Johnson over Donald Trump. He said he was still a “proud member” of the Republican Party.

Over the next four years, however, that pride dwindled. And after the Jan. 6 breach of the U.S. Capitol, Rigell became a political independent. He said he couldn’t stomach seeing his former colleagues “hold on to the proven falsehood that the election was stolen.”

“I am still to this day stunned that the Republican Party elevated, embraced — and continues to, to this day — a man I think is a complete moral wasteland, not only personally but in the public square,” he said.

Rigell is one of three former Republican members of Congress from Virginia to join a national open call this month to reform the GOP and steer it away from Trumpian politics after the ouster of Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) as the House GOP conference chair. The others are former representatives Barbara Comstock and Denver Riggleman.

The group — dubbed “A Call for American Renewal” — also includes Marylanders Michael Steele, a former lieutenant governor, and Wayne Gilchrest and Connie Morella, both former members of Congress (Gilchrest announced in 2019 that he had become a Democrat). Its organizers stopped short of calling for a new party but seemed to flirt with the possibility.

While in Congress, Comstock, Rigell and Riggleman were reliable conservative votes on a wide range of issues including border security and deregulation, making their evolution into GOP critics a stark example of the schism Trump has created within the traditional political right.

Riggleman, who also no longer calls himself a Republican, was a member of the ultraconservative House Freedom Caucus.

But they have drawn the line at echoing Trump’s false claims about a rigged 2020 election. In contrast, all four of Virginia’s current Republican members of Congress objected to President Biden’s electoral victory during the counting of Electoral College votes on Jan. 6.

“Some want to have a new party, but I’m in the category of wanting to have a much healthier two-party system and center-right Republican Party that embraces the rule of law,” said Comstock, . . . . “Pushing back against January 6 was a dividing line. You cannot support the big lie and be a constitutional conservative.”

Trump’s falsehoods and divisive style drove centrist voters away from the GOP, nationally and in Virginia, political analysts say, ultimately speeding the commonwealth’s shift from swing-state purple to Democratic blue.

Virginia Republicans who oppose or criticize Trump are being shunned or sidelined within the party, said Stephen Farnsworth, a political science professor at the University of Mary Washington, while those who embrace him struggle to win statewide elections or suburban swing districts.

“At the moment, these three former members of Congress are more like voices crying in a Republican wilderness,” Farnsworth said. “Will the party come around to their way of thinking? I think a lot depends on the success or failure of Republican candidates who are all in in their support of former president Trump. If Republicans get swept again in statewide elections, the arguments offered by Riggleman and Comstock and Rigell may make more sense to some of the die-hard activists.”

Comstock views detaching Republican candidates from Trump as key to winning swing states and taking back the House majority — a view echoed by many critics of the former president but forcefully rejected by the GOP caucus when it replaced Cheney with Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.). That rejection, Comstock said, is what made signing onto the call for GOP reform feel so urgent.

“We’ve never had this cult of personality where you had to pick a person over issues. It’s just juvenile,” she said. “As Liz said, if you don’t stand up to the liar, it’s going to continue. ... [Trump] has a burn-it-down mentality; if he can’t win, he doesn’t care if Republicans win or not.

Sunday Morning Male Beauty


CNN Dumps Rick Santorum Over Racist Remarks

I have long despised Rick Santorum who, in my view, is a closeted self-loathing gay man who cannot let go of his warped Roman Catholic upbringing - like Santorum, I was raised Catholic and know too well what it does to a young gay's mind and the self-hatred it engenders - who has consistently sought to harm normal, well adjusted LGBT Americans. (Ken Cuccinelli is another such Catholic raised individual who has still not figured out that fathering seven children - like Santorum - did not magically make him heterosexual).  But Santorum's bigotry doesn't extend just to gays as demonstrated by his recent comments on Native Americans that smacked of white supremacy and seemingly supported the horrific genocide committed against the original inhabitants of America. Thankfully, CNN is belatedly ditching Santorum as a political commentator - something that should have happened years ago.  A piece in Politico looks at Santorum being shown the door.  Here are excerpts:

CNN is cutting ties with former Republican senator and current TV analyst Rick Santorum over disparaging comments he made about Native American culture.

On CNN, Santorum was a senior political commentator who was often tasked with giving the Republican point of view during campaign coverage. His parting ways with the network was confirmed Saturday by Alison Rudnick, vice president of HLN Communications and CNN Diversity and Inclusion.

He sparked controversy in an April 23 speech before the Young America’s Foundation, a conservative youth organization. Santorum said immigrants created a nation based on the Judeo-Christian ethic from a blank slate.

“We birthed a nation from nothing,” he said. “Yes, there were Native Americans, but there isn’t much Native American culture in American culture.”

The comment prompted Fawn Sharp, president of the National Congress of American Indians, to call him “an unhinged and embarrassing racist who disgraces CNN and any other media company that provides him a platform.”

“To correct the record, what European colonizers found in the Americas were thousands of complex, sophisticated, and sovereign tribal nations, each with millennia of distinct cultural, spiritual and technological development,” she wrote in a statement.

Santorum later said on Chris Cuomo’s CNN show that he “misspoke” in the sense that it wasn’t clear that he was speaking in the context of the founding of the United States government.

Santorum's comments have garnered blowback before, especially his views on gay marriage and homosexuality. In 2003, he infuriated gay rights advocates by appearing to compare homosexuality to pedophilia and bestiality. 

 Santorum also knows little history, since the U.S. Constitution borrowed from the organization structure of the Iroquois Confederacy.