Saturday, June 05, 2021

More Saturday Male Beauty


With Travel Back, Virginia Courts the LGBT Dollar

I've written on this topic before and the idiocy of states and countries that continue to persecute LGBT individuals and/or make themselves inhospitable to those who love differently.  Statistics show that LGBT travelers spend an estimated $63.1 billion on domestic and international travel.  Yes, billion, with a "B".  The husband and I love to travel and consciously avoid destinations that are not-LGBT welcoming - as do many other LGBT travelers.  Any sane and responsible tourism effort should seek a piece of the $63.1 billion LGBT travel market.  As a piece WTVR-Channel 6 reports, Virginia is seeking to capitalize on its new LGBT nondiscrimination protections and the Commonwealth's rich history.  Reactionary regions of the state - think Southwest Virginia and parts of Southside Virginia - would be wise to reject religious based bigotry and start welcoming all travelers.  Here are article highlights: 

RICHMOND, Va. -- June marks the start of Pride Month for the LBGTQ+ community which commemorates years of struggle for civil rights and equality.

On Wednesday, the Office of the Secretary of the Commonwealth hosted “Pride Month Series: Virginia is for Tourism Lovers” virtual roundtable. The event was led by Virginia Tourism Corporation along with members of the LGBTQ+ tourism industry discussing marketing efforts for 2021.

“The number one reason for travel is visiting friends and family and that doesn’t change within the LGBTQ+ community,” said Wirt Confroy, director of business development for Virginia Tourism.

According to Virginia Tourism, queer travelers in Virginia stay longer compared to all travelers. On average, 6% of visitors to our state identify as LGBTQ+ and they bring their wallets with them.

LGBTQ+ travelers spent an estimated $63.1 billion on domestic and international travel.

“It’s not just about the money. It’s about making a place, it’s making a community,” said Rita McClenny, president of Virginia Tourism.  McClenny highlighted the work of Virginia’s lawmakers who passed 11 pro-equality bills this session, which is considered a rainbow sign to visitors.

“This is all to make our visitors, our citizens, our community feel welcome and whole and positive,” she explained.

Virginia has taken the lead among Southern states to attract more communities to the Commonwealth. Virginia was the first Southern state to provide sweeping anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ+ people following the passage of the Virginia Values Act in 2020.

To attract queer visitors, non-profits across the state have highlighted the histories of their communities.

Dr. G. Samantha Rosenthal has organized walking tours of Roanoke’s gay neighborhoods, including Old Southwest where the LGBTQ+ make up a disproportionate number of the population.

For some localities, the goal is to encourage visitors to settle down especially in rural areas. The Arrow Project in Staunton provides safe spaces and free counseling for residents.

“I would like to think the support we provide to new coming members of our community does make them feel situated and want to stay and be a part of our community,” said Sabrina Burress.

But regardless of how you identify, Virginia Tourism shared the following simple advice.  “The grand welcome in tourism is to just be nice to everybody and help them get them what they need,” Confroy said.

Saturday Morning Male Beauty

I have long been interested in ocean liners and famous warships, including the HMS Hood which was lost in the Battle of Denmark Straits where it faced off against the Bismark.  I came across the image above of  above of Henry Sergeant, born 24th May 1920 and who died on 24th May 1941 along with all but three of Hood's 1400+ member crew.  I find the image haunting and representative of the millions of lives lost in war. RIP Henry Sergeant.

The Thin Veneer of Normalcy

It's summertime and social events and interactions on the surface are at last returning to a semblance of normal.  Here in Virginia, we face yet another election cycle, this time for state offices, and the political and social malaise that continues to hang over the nation are visible in the form of many on the GOP ticket, starting with the Trump endorsed gubernatorial candidate who beneath the surface is a right wing fanatic loved by Christofascists.  Down ballot, the GOP is fielding anti-vaccine nuts and others who are using the smoke screen of supporting "freedom" to justify discrimination and abuse as they seek to take Virginia back to the 1950's.  At the national level, things are even worse with many in the GOP - which has thankfully shrunk in numbers - whole heartedly supporting Trump's lies and seeking to enshrine permanent minority rule by whites and myth believing, morally bankrupt evangelicals and Christofascists. Those who support democracy and true morality should not be lulled into a false sense that the insanity and lawlessness of the Trump/Pence regime is finally behind us as a piece in The Atlantic argues.  Here are excerpts:

Squint the right way and things look almost normal. The barriers around the Capitol are gone. People are taking off their masks and going out. The Nats and Orioles are in the basement. Most of all, politics is boring again.

That’s not to say Washington is working well, mind you. Consider this week’s negotiations between President Joe Biden and Senator Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, a Republican, over infrastructure spending—a priority that both parties (theoretically) support but one that has nonetheless been stuck in purgatory for months. Things are broken in the most normal of ways, though: Mindless partisan deadlock is the sort of dysfunction Americans have long accepted.

But this appearance of normalcy is a thin veneer. Just below the surface, the United States faces a set of perilous, unresolved threats. The former president refuses to recognize the legitimacy of the election he lost. His party’s leaders are abandoning their commitment to democratic majority governance, and its voters insist that he won. Domestic terrorism threatens the nation’s tranquility, and ordinary violent crime is on the rise too. Relaxing about the state of the country feels irresistible, but doing so would be unwise.

A series of reports has shed light on the bizarre situation of the Old Pretender as he continues to stew over the election. The journalists Maggie Haberman and Charles C. W. Cooke report that Donald Trump is saying, and perhaps truly believes, that he will be “reinstated” as president this summer, after it becomes clear that he rightfully won the election . . . .

Several barriers will prevent this: Trump didn’t win, no evidence can prove otherwise, and there’s no constitutional mechanism for such a reinstatement. Many losing candidates have griped about election results, and insisted that they were cheated. . . . . But the current situation is unprecedented: No former presidential candidate, much less president, has ever so flatly refused to accept the results or expected to be reinstalled.

Reality has never constrained Trump’s statements. The problem is how far this thinking has spread beyond him. Large portions of the Republican electorate purport to agree in opinion polls that Trump rightfully won the election, and the on-again, off-again Svengali Steve Bannon claims that staying in lockstep with Trump will be a “litmus test” for future GOP candidates.

[O]pposition both to majority rule and to the notion that Democrats can win elections fairly is on the rise in the Republican Party. These rejections of the system’s basic tenets have consequences. In March, FBI Director Christopher Wray (a Trump appointee) warned, “January 6 was not an isolated event. The problem of domestic terrorism has been metastasizing across the country for a long time now and it’s not going away anytime soon.”

The early months of the Trump administration birthed a new mantra. “This is not normal,” resistance types warned, sometimes ad nauseam. They hoped to prevent Americans from being lulled into a sense that the Trump presidency’s abuses and lawlessness were somehow typical and acceptable. But even then, despite the constant flow of outrages, it was hard to ever feel like anything was normal, and any nascent complacency was shattered by the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic. Now that the nation has begun to move past some of that, the temptation to relax is stronger. But below the veneer, this too is not normal.

Friday, June 04, 2021

More Friday Male Beauty


Kyrsten Sinema's and Joe Manchin’s Nihilistic Bipartisanship

The vast majority of the congressional Republicans and that Party's base are now fully detached from objective reality and put allegiance  to Trump ahead of all else - much as many German politicians supported Hitler in the late 1920's and early 1930's - ahead of all else no matter how big or delusional Trump's lies may be.  Frighteningly, two Democrat U.S. Senators - Krysten Sinema and Joe Manchin - appear to be equally detached from objective reality and cling to a myth of bipartisanship which is simple lunacy given the bad faith and anti-democratic efforts of today's Republican Party and GOP U.S. Senators.  How else to explain their insane defense of the filibuster, a tactic which traces its history to pre-Civil War slave state senators and later Southern state opponents of desegregation and 1965 Voting Rights Act.  A column in the New York Times looks at Sinema's and Manchin's self-centered/unrealistic response the GOP bad faith and very real threats to continued democracy in America.  Here are column excerpts:

We are in the eye of the storm of American democratic collapse. There is, outwardly, a feeling of calm. The Biden administration is competent and placid. The coronavirus emergency is receding nationally, if not internationally. Donald Trump, once the most powerful man on earth and the emperor of the news cycle, is now a failed blogger under criminal investigation.

Yet in red states, Trump’s party, motivated by his big lie about his 2020 loss, is systematically changing electoral rules to make it harder for Democratic constituencies to vote and, should Democrats win anyway, easier for Republicans to overturn elections.

You’ve probably heard the details already — Democrats are repeating them ad nauseam, with a growing sense of desperation. States are accelerating voter roll purges and empowering Fox News-addled partisan poll watchers to roam election sites searching for signs of malfeasance. They are stripping the authority to administer elections from those who stood up for the rule of law this past year.

Republicans have an excellent chance of gerrymandering their way to control of the House in 2022, whether or not they increase their vote share. A Republican-dominated House is unlikely to smoothly ratify even a clear Democratic presidential victory in 2024. We may be living through a brief interregnum before American democracy is strangled for a generation.

Two Democratic senators, Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin, could save us by joining their colleagues in breaking the filibuster and passing new voting rights legislation. But they prefer not to.

This is nonsense. The filibuster was created by mistake when the Senate, cleaning up its rule book in 1806, failed to include a provision to cut off debate. (A so-called cloture rule allowing two-thirds of senators to end a filibuster was adopted in 1917; the proportion was reduced to three-fifths in 1975.) The filibuster encouraged extremism, not comity: It was a favorite tool of pro-slavery senators before the Civil War and segregationists after it.

More than any other type of legislation, the filibuster was used in the 20th century to derail civil rights bills, from anti-lynching measures to bans on housing discrimination. During Barack Obama’s administration, Republicans began using it to an unprecedented degree to block his nominations. According to a 2013 Congressional Research Service report, “Out of the 168 cloture motions ever filed (or reconsidered) on nominations, 82 (49 percent) were cloture motions on nominations made since 2009.” The filibuster’s history is both ignominious and ever-changing.

Both she [Sinema] and Manchin are committed to bipartisanship as a supreme good, which in practice means bowing to the wishes of a party that doesn’t believe Joe Biden is a legitimate president and wants above all to see him fail. (“One hundred percent of our focus is on stopping this new administration,” the Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, said last month.)

Democrats hope that Manchin, who has said Democrats should have faith that there are “10 good people” in the Republican caucus, will lessen his opposition to filibuster reform when Senate Republicans repeatedly prove him wrong. It’s harder to know what Sinema actually believes and thus what could sway her; she seems above all dedicated to a view of herself as a quirky maverick, and delights in trolling the Democrats who elected her.

This gap between the scale of the catastrophe bearing down on us and the blithe refusal of Manchin and Sinema to help is enough to leave one frozen with despair. Democrats have no discernible leverage over Manchin and little over Sinema, though they ought to consider primarying her. (Unlike Manchin, she’s not the only Democrat who could win a Senate seat in her state.) Those who want our democracy to endure have no choice but to keep asking, imploring and cajoling these two lawmakers to value it above the false idol of bipartisanship, but so far there’s little sign they will.

So we’re stuck. The overarching story of American politics right now is that Republicans are laying the groundwork to accomplish legally what they failed to do by force on Jan. 6. Sinema could help fortify our country against a tide of Trumpist authoritarianism that could soon wash away everything that makes it worthwhile. Instead she’s showing us her ring.

Friday Morning Male Beauty


UVA Is Investing $100 Million To Work to Save Democracy

Those who are not alumni of the University of Virginia or residents of Charlottesville likely cannot grasps the anger that still simmers over the invasion of the university grounds and one of Virginia's most progressive cities by the white supremacist's - who Donald Trump described as "very good people" - in August 2017.  In retrospect that event in Charlottesville foreshadowed the January 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, another event condoned, if not incited by Trump and populated by members from his white supremacist and Christofascist base of support.   Now, with Republican controlled state legislatures seeking to disenfranchise voters and make voting more difficult for minorities in particular, American democracy remains under serious threat as noted by 100 scholars of democracy in a statement this week.  Some billionaires have taken note and one couple has made a $50 million donation to the University of Virginia to fund an effort to work to save American democracy.  A piece in the Washington Post looks at the effort.  Here are excerpts:

Bruce and Martha Karsh are names that may not sound familiar, unless you follow the world of educational philanthropy, where they have been major, if quiet, players over the past couple of decades.

Through their foundation, this billionaire California couple — he is the founder of the investment firm Oaktree Capital Management — has given more than $300 million toward programs and scholarships that largely focus on lifting disadvantaged students.

Politics was something they largely avoided, figuring they had better things to do with their fortune. “I think pre-Trump we kind of took our democracy for granted, frankly,” Bruce Karsh, who rarely gives interviews, told me. “We were pretty apolitical, I guess, and we’ve supported candidates on both sides of the aisle. We made some contributions, but very small, and not meaningful.”

All of that began to change for them in 2017, when white supremacists marched in Charlottesville, the college town where the couple met four decades ago as law students at the University of Virginia. In 2018, they gave $43.9 million to U-Va.’s law school — its largest gift ever — to fund scholarships and set up a center there to promote the rule of law and democratic ideals.

But their anxiety about the state of democracy only grew in the aftermath of the 2020 presidential election, when President Donald Trump refused to accept the clear fact that he had lost, and then egged on a violent attack on the U.S. Capitol by his supporters.

“It just made us decide that we were going to go bigger and deeper, because this was a much more serious problem than we had thought, even two years earlier,” Bruce said.

On Friday morning, the University of Virginia will announce that the couple is giving $50 million, which the university has promised to match, to establish what will be known as the Karsh Institute of Democracy.

The institute will aim to elevate the practical understanding and promotion of democratic principles. One of its missions is to coordinate the expertise currently spread in a disjointed fashion across more than a half-dozen programs on the campus.

I can’t think of a more fitting place for such an endeavor than this storied public university. It was founded by Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson, James Madison and James Monroe — three U.S. presidents who hailed from Virginia — were all present when the cornerstone for U-Va.’s first building was laid in 1817.

The goal, she explained, is to “start to put ideas into the bloodstream, in such a way that they start to shape the way that policymakers, and business leaders, and grass-roots leaders in the public are thinking and talking about them, so that they can in turn then shape legislation and policy and practice."

The fragility of our system of laws and rights has rarely been more apparent than at this moment. Every day, we see people who describe themselves as “patriots” mobilizing to overturn election results and make it harder for people to vote.

It is an urgent situation, which is why more than 100 scholars of democracy signed a “statement of concern” this week calling upon Democratic senators to suspend the filibuster and pass a national set of voting protections.

Set against the ugliness of the current political climate, can even a $100 million investment in the study, teaching and promotion of democracy really make a difference?

“I think you have to start with educating people,” Martha Karsh said. Thomas Jefferson, who more than 200 years ago designed the “academical village” where this experiment in revitalizing democracy will take place, would no doubt agree.

Thursday, June 03, 2021

Trump's Growing Delusions

Donald Trump has likely not been mentally sound in many decades. Stated another way, Trump has likely been mentally ill - as noted by Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, a neurologist by profession, in 2017 during campaign ads and a Washington Post interview.  But Trump's detachment from objective reality seems to be intensifying as set out in a New York Times column and confirmed by a piece in National Review, the latter being anything but a liberal media outlet. Trump's latest delusion - fueled no doubt by Q'Anon lunatics and right wing Christian "prophets" is that he will somehow miraculously be reinstated as president in August, 2021. Republicans pandering to Trump's insanity are little better than politicians in ancient Rome who pandered far too long to the seriously insane emperor Nero who  was over thrown and may have taken his own life when faced with capture.  The National Review piece is particularly blunt in call out Trump's delusions.  Here are excerpts:

Two days ago, the New York Times’s Maggie Haberman reported that Donald Trump “has been telling a number of people he’s in contact with that he expects he will get reinstated by August.” In response, many figures on the right inserted their fingers into their ears and started screaming about fake news.

Instead, they should have listened — because Haberman’s reporting was correct. I can attest, from speaking to an array of different sources, that Donald Trump does indeed believe quite genuinely that he — along with former senators David Perdue and Martha McSally — will be “reinstated” to office this summer after “audits” of the 2020 elections in Arizona, Georgia, and a handful of other states have been completed. I can attest, too, that Trump is trying hard to recruit journalists, politicians, and other influential figures to promulgate this belief — not as a fundraising tool or an infantile bit of trolling or a trial balloon, but as a fact.

It will be tempting for weary conservatives to dismiss this information as “old news” or as “an irrelevance.” It will be tempting, too, to downplay the enormity of what is being claimed, or to change the subject, or to attack the messengers by implying that they must “hate” Trump and his voters But such temptations should be assiduously avoided. We are not talking here about a fringe figure within the Republican tent, but about a man who hopes to make support for his outlandish claims “a litmus test of sorts as he decides whom to endorse for state and federal contests in 2022 and 2024.” Conservatives understand why it mattered that the press lost its collective mind over Russia after Trump’s fair-and-square victory in 2016. They understand why it mattered that Hillary Clinton publicly described Trump as an “illegitimate president” who had “stolen” the election. And they understand why it mattered that Jimmy Carter insisted that Trump had “lost the election” and been “put into office because the Russians interfered.” They should understand why this matters, too.

The scale of Trump’s delusion is quite startling. This is not merely an eccentric interpretation of the facts or an interesting foible, nor is it an irrelevant example of anguished post-presidency chatter. It is a rejection of reality, a rejection of law, and, ultimately, a rejection of the entire system of American government. There is no Reinstatement Clause within the United States Constitution. Hell, there is nothing even approximating a Reinstatement Clause within the United States Constitution. The election has been certified, Joe Biden is the president, and, until 2024, that is all there is to it. It does not matter what one’s view of Trump is. It does not matter whether one voted for or against Trump. It does not matter whether one views Trump’s role within the Republican Party favorably or unfavorably. We are talking here about cold, hard, neutral facts that obtain irrespective of one’s preferences; it is not too much to ask that the former head of the executive branch should understand them.

Just how far out there is Trump’s theory? Consider that, even if it were true that the 2020 election had been stolen — which it is absolutely not — his belief would still be absurd. . . . there is no mechanism within the American legal order for a do-over of any sort. In such an eventuality, there would be indictments, an impeachment drive, and a constitutional crisis. But, however bad it got, Donald Trump would not be “reinstated” to the presidency. That is not how America works, how America has ever worked, or how America can ever work. American politicians do not lose their reelection races only to be reinstalled later on, as might the second-place horse in a race whose winner was disqualified. The idea is otherworldly and obscene.

There is nothing to be gained for conservatism by pretending otherwise. To acknowledge that Trump is living in a fantasy world does not wipe out his achievements or render anything else he has said incorrect. It does not endorse Joe Biden or hand the Republican Party over to Bill Kristol or knock down an inch of the wall on the border. It merely demands that Donald Trump be treated like any other person: subject to gravity, open to rebuttal, and liable to be laughed at when he becomes so unmoored from the real world that it is hard to know where to begin in attempting to explain him.

More Thursday Male Beauty


The Generational War Among Evangelicals

The number of Americans identifying as evangelical Christians continues to drop with the exodus strongest among the youngest generations, some 40% of whom have walked away from organized religion.  Last year the Southern Baptist Convention saw the largest decline in membership ever.  Evangelicals' slavish support of Donald Trump - a man who embodies everything a true Christian should disavow - has only accelerated the phenomenon and has caused many younger evangelicals to call for the severing of evangelicals' lockstep allegiance to the Republican Party.  A long piece in Politico looks at the ongoing war for the soul of the evangelical movement with focus on Liberty University located in Lynchburg, Virginia - which along with Regent University I view as a blight on Virginia -  where students are increasingly at odds with the university's ties to the GOP and Trump in particular. Here are article highlights:

For years, there was an adage around Liberty University that if God split Jerry Falwell in half, you would have his sons Jerry and Jonathan.

Jerry Jr. inherited his father’s desire to be a force in American politics, and his post as Liberty University president, while Jonathan inherited his father’s gift for evangelical uplift and became pastor of his church.

Now, 14 years after Jerry Falwell Sr. died and nine months after Jerry Jr. was ousted in a scandal, Liberty is enmeshed in a debate that could have profound implications for the nation’s religious right: Whether it should keep nurturing Jerry Jr.’s focus on politics and maintain its high-flying role in the Republican Party, or begin to change its culture and back away from politics, an approach increasingly favored by younger evangelicals.

As part of their discussions, the Liberty trustees are considering naming Jonathan Falwell as the university’s chancellor—an important and highly symbolic post—in order to maintain the Falwell family connection but not their political baggage, according to people familiar with the deliberations.

Donald Trump looms large over the university’s dilemma. Jerry Jr. shocked many in the religious right with his early endorsement of Trump over many Republicans with far greater evangelical ties; during Trump’s presidency, Jerry Jr. spent university funds on ads and programs that highlighted Trump and his followers. But Jonathan has been far cooler toward Trump. And in the wake of Jerry Jr.’s ouster, some in the Liberty community question whether the university would do better to concentrate on its religious values rather than casting its lot with the former president.

Liberty’s ultimate path will influence the greater evangelical world, which is having its own reckoning with the post-Trump Republican Party. With more than 100,000 students, Liberty has long been one of a small handful of top cultural institutions for evangelicals, its board studded with famed pastors and movement leaders. Observers believe that even a small change in direction at Liberty could signal shifting winds among one of Republicans’ most important voting blocs.

“There’s a battle going on between the pro-Trump, pro-conspiracy theory, anti-vaccine crowd and Christians who might or might not have some overlap with those things, but who care most about the ministry.”

Since Jerry Jr. was pushed out of Liberty’s leadership last August, after claiming he was being blackmailed by a former pool attendant who had an affair with his wife, the university’s seven-member trustee executive committee has been struggling to determine how to take the university forward, according to interviews with more than 15 current and former Liberty students, faculty members, administrators and trustees.

In April, the trustees replaced their acting chairman, Allen McFarland, the first Black person to serve as Liberty board chairman, who had an interest in increasing tolerance and diversity at Liberty. He was replaced with Tim Lee, a pugnacious pro-Trump pastor.

But as Lee and others have taken increasing control of the school, a growing chorus of campus critics has been calling on the trustees to enact greater reforms, and they appear to be listening. A week before they took their strongest step yet to distance themselves from Jerry Jr., suing him for failing to reveal the alleged blackmail scheme, they designated Jonathan Falwell as campus pastor. Liberty’s reformers are now pushing for Jonathan to assume an even bigger leadership role at Liberty and help transform the university into a more genteel place. That would mean halting the university’s uncritical embrace of Trump’s party. Today’s GOP, they allege, simply does not represent Christian values.

Matt Morris, a Liberty student from Northern Virginia who recently launched a viral petition against a pro-Trump think tank at Liberty, said he would like it to be a place where “the focus isn’t necessarily the conservative values, but more the biblical values that are part of the school.”

Giving Jonathan a prominent position shows the university is still invested in the Falwell family’s legacy. And while his role of campus pastor is somewhat limited in scope, becoming chancellor would make Falwell one of the main stewards of the university and give him a role in hiring Liberty’s next president, too.

Most important for those who would like to see change at Liberty, Jonathan did not embrace Trump when his brother became an enthusiastic supporter in 2016. . . . . That’s not to say that Jonathan, who did not respond to interview requests, is not a conservative. He has spoken out on social issues including gay marriage, which he said would never be allowed at the family’s Thomas Roads Baptist Church. And he voted in the 2016 and 2020 elections, records show.

But Jonathan has not shared his brother and father’s affection for the rough-and-tumble of national politics, or in becoming a national figure at all. . . . . Most significantly, Jonathan’s friends and supporters say they feel he would be content providing spiritual guidance to Liberty while letting others manage the university’s administration.

Jonathan and Jerry Jr. did not have a particularly close relationship, two people who know both brothers said. One issue on which the brothers did not align was on how fully to embrace Trump. And Jonathan has made it clear that he has some very different views from the former president‘s. The day after the 2017 “Unite the Right” white supremacist march in Charlottesville, which Trump notably failed to condemn, Jonathan Falwell delivered a blazing sermon condemning racism and the rising alt-right.

Standing a mere 60 miles from Charlottesville with a Bible in one hand, Falwell told the congregation, “I hope that you were saddened, I hope you were sickened by what you saw.”

“Some people call it the alt-right, some people call it white supremacy or white nationalism. They may want to call it, you know, neo-Nazis or they may want to call it KKK,” Jonathan said. “The one thing that I know is that God calls it sin. Racism is against God’s word, it is wrong every single time.”

“The late Dr. Jerry Falwell Sr. would be rolling over in his grave if he knew the son who bore his name had endorsed the most immoral and ungodly man to ever run for President of the United States,” John Stemberger, president of the evangelical Florida Family Policy Council, said the day Falwell Jr. announced his endorsement.

Nonetheless, the backing of Falwell helped Trump gain a share of the evangelical vote while securing a string of primary victories over his more religious counterparts, including Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who had gone so far as to announce his presidential bid at Liberty. Ultimately, 80 percent of white evangelicals voted for Trump in the 2016 general election, according to exit polls. In 2020, most white evangelicals—somewhere between 76 and 81 percent—voted for Trump a second time.

But polling also tells a second story, one that is troubling church leaders. Since 2008, the share of white evangelical Protestants as part of the population has been on a sharp decline, from 21 percent to 15 percent of the population now. The decline is unusually steep among organized religions.

“They’re losing people in the under-50 category,” said Robert Jones, CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute. And focus groups and research have shown that people who have left the church say they were turned off by its overt partisanship.

“People who came of age when the Christian right movement was ascendant, what they saw of Christianity was this hard-edge, anti-gay, partisan politics. And I think it was something that just didn’t resonate with that generation’s values and what they thought religion ought to be about,” Jones said.

A growing number of Liberty students, faculty and alumni feel that way, and are becoming vocal about what they see as overt partisanship at the university.

Last summer, a wave of Black faculty and students, including Liberty’s diversity director, announced plans to resign or transfer schools after Jerry Jr. posted a tweet about mask mandates that invoked Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s blackface scandal that Jerry Jr. said was intended to be facetious. . . . . Other alumni have formed a nonprofit, Save71, to focus on lobbying for reforming the school.

We have had dozens of conversations with students who are embarrassed to claim the name of our school due to the rhetoric that comes from this center,” wrote Constance Schneider, the student body president.

Liberty’s most fervent critics say the entire board—including Jonathan Falwell, Lee and Prevo — are part of the problem and should consider resigning. For years, the board failed to address longstanding rumors that Jerry Jr. was mismanaging the university’s finances in a way that rewarded his friends and family, and behaving inappropriately in his personal relationships, they note.

“It’s the hens guarding the hen house,” said a former Liberty University administrator. “I’m sure they think this suit against Jerry demonstrates they’re serious about cleaning up a mess, but it was late, and that’s not how you clean up a mess from previous years.”

Wednesday, June 02, 2021

Thursday Morning Male Beauty


More Wednesday Male Beauty


Will Virginia Republicans Again Target LGBT Virginians in the 2021 Elections?

A friend has an op-ed in the Virginian Pilot that looks at what I expect will be another round of anti-LGBT bigotry and hate mongering by Republicans in the 2021 election cycle here in Virginia. The top of the Virginia GOP ticket, gubernatorial candidate Glenn Younkin, refers to his "faith" repeatedly in his television ads and is the darling of The Family Foundation, a Virginia based hate group that has worked endlessly to oppose LGBT rights and to make life as miserable as possible for LGBT Virginians. Youngkin's ads talk about restoring "our shared values" which is code language to evangelicals and white supremacists that his goal is to roll back LGBT nondiscrimination protections and voting rights protections.  Indeed, when Youngkin says he wants to bring a new day to Virginia, that new day would be circa 1955.  Voters need to resist the LGBT hate mongering which will soon hit the campaign trail in earnest. Here are op-ed highlights:

June is Pride month celebrating LGBTQ Americans. But there is a shadow cast over much of the equality gains made over the past decade. This year state legislatures across the country have introduced a record number of anti-LGBTQ legislation (more than 250). Most of these horrific bills discriminate against transgender youth — whether by denying them critical health care benefits or prohibiting these young people from participating in sports with their teammates.

Here in Virginia, will Republican candidates champion this type of legislation and parrot former President Donald Trump’s anti-transgender rhetoric this election cycle?

The question at hand is this: Does attacking the LGBTQ community still energize the GOP base and create political points for its candidates? Both chambers of the Virginia General Assembly have razor-thin Democratic majorities, and the House of Delegates and all statewide offices are up for election this November. To what extent will conservatives rely on attacks against the LGBTQ community to turn out their voters?

The recent case of Del. Glenn Davis is illustrative. During his recent (unsuccessful) run for lieutenant governor, Davis was attacked in an anonymous text message and referred to as a “gay Democrat.” Rather than simply refuting that he was either gay or a Democrat, Davis filed a defamation lawsuit over the “gay attack” (Virginia Pilot May 5, 2021).

This case is troubling from a number of perspectives. First, it is possible that the ad was successful and contributed towards Davis being defeated in his lieutenant governor bid. Second, the delegate’s decision to file a defamation lawsuit for merely being called gay, which while incorrect is certainly not slanderous, suggests he felt such a significant step was necessary to distance himself from the charge. . . . Unfortunately, the path to the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor ran through an anti-LGBTQ base which “Trumped” all other considerations.

[W]hy would someone such as Davis, who was previously a self-proclaimed supporter of LGBTQ rights, feel it is necessary to so strenuously object to being called gay? The answer, regrettably, must be that he felt it was crucial to file his lawsuit to appeal to the Republican base and convention voters.

The commonwealth’s political leaders have made great policy strides over the last several years to make Virginia more equitable for its LGBTQ citizens. Gov. Ralph Northam has signed into law the Virginia Values Act and eliminated “trans panic” as a line of defense. He also created a Governor’s LGBTQ Advisory Commission, among numerous other pieces of legislation — all of which are long overdue and historic.

Republicans should not seek to create a wedge issue out of LGBTQ rights. The stakes are too high. Peoples’ lives are at risk: 40% of transgender youth report that they have attempted suicide. There is still a long way to go for full LGBTQ rights and inclusion.

The openly LGBTQ leaders who serve with Davis in the General Assembly (Sen. Adam Ebbin, Dels. Mark Sickles, Dawn Adams, Mark Levine and Danica Roem) have done an incredible job serving all Virginians. As the campaign season heats up, Davis and members of his party would be better served by standing in solidarity with their colleagues, and with the thousands of LGBTQ Virginians in the commonwealth — and honor LGBTQ Pride month in June rather than using attack ads which insinuates being gay is a bad thing in the first place. 

I doubt Republicans will heed Lisa's recommendation. The anti-LGBT dog whistle attacks - and open attacks - are likely just beginning.

Wednesday Morning Male Beauty


100 Leading Experts: America's Democracy is in Grave Danger

Some no doubt will say I am too shrill when it comes to calling out the Republican threat to Democracy in America.  Apparently, I am not alone in my fear that the democracy we have known may be headed into its last days, especially if Republican efforts to disenfranchise voters are successful and too many voters are complacent and fail to recognize the threat.  On this issue 100 experts, many of whom have studied the tactics and strategies of anti-democratic, anti-pluralist parties in other democracies that have slipped away from free and fair elections, are sounding the alarm.  It is far past time to ignore the threat before us and to mobilize the pro-democracy elements in American society to hand Republicans defeat at every level of the ballot.  A column in the Washington Post looks at the threat and the warning sounded by experts.  Here are highlights:

Democrats can’t say they weren’t warned. With yet another GOP effort to restrict voting underway in Texas, President Biden is now calling on Congress to act in the face of the Republican “assault on democracy.” Importantly, Biden cast that attack as aimed at “Black and Brown Americans,” meriting federal legislation in response.

That is a welcome escalation. But it remains unclear whether 50 Senate Democrats will ever prove willing to reform or end the filibuster, and more to the point, whether Biden will put real muscle behind that cause. If not, such protections will never, ever pass.

Now, in a striking intervention, more than 100 scholars of democracy have signed a new public statement of principles that seeks to make the stakes unambiguously, jarringly clear: On the line is nothing less than the future of our democracy itself.

“Our entire democracy is now at risk,” the scholars write in the statement, which I obtained before its release. “History will judge what we do at this moment.”

And these scholars underscore the crucial point: Our democracy’s long-term viability might depend on whether Democrats reform or kill the filibuster to pass sweeping voting rights protections.

“We urge members of Congress to do whatever is necessary — including suspending the filibuster — in order to pass national voting and election administration standards,” the scholars write, in a reference to the voting rights protections enshrined in the For the People Act, which passed the House and is before the Senate.

What’s striking is that the statement is signed by scholars who specialize in democratic breakdown, such as Pippa Norris, Daniel Ziblatt and Steven Levitsky. Other well-known names include Francis Fukuyama and Jacob Hacker.

“The playbook that the Republican Party is executing at the state and national levels is very much consistent with actions taken by illiberal, anti-democratic, anti-pluralist parties in other democracies that have slipped away from free and fair elections,” Drutman continued.

Among these, the scholars note, are efforts by GOP-controlled state legislatures everywhere to restrict access to voting in ways reminiscent of tactics employed before the United States became a real multiracial democracy in the mid-1960s:

Republican lawmakers have openly talked about ensuring the “purity” and “quality” of the vote, echoing arguments widely used across the Jim Crow South as reasons for restricting the Black vote.

The scholars also sound the alarm about GOP efforts to deepen control of electoral machinery in numerous states, casting them as a live threat to overturn future elections, and a redoubling of emphasis on extreme gerrymanders and other anti-majoritarian tactics:

In future elections, these laws politicizing the administration and certification of elections could enable some state legislatures or partisan election officials to do what they failed to do in 2020: reverse the outcome of a free and fair election. Further, these laws could entrench extended minority rule, violating the basic and longstanding democratic principle that parties that get the most votes should win elections.

Crucially, the scholars note that the John Lewis Voting Rights Act — which would restore some protections gutted by the Supreme Court — would be insufficient, and they call for federal protections such as those in the For the People Act, or S.1.

“Just as it ultimately took federal voting rights law to put an end to state-led voter suppression laws throughout the South" in the 1960s, the scholars write, so must federal law step in again:

True electoral integrity demands a comprehensive set of national standards that ensure the sanctity and independence of election administration, guarantee that all voters can freely exercise their right to vote, prevent partisan gerrymandering from giving dominant parties in the states an unfair advantage in the process of drawing congressional districts, and regulate ethics and money in politics.

It is always far better for major democracy reforms to be bipartisan, to give change the broadest possible legitimacy. However, in the current hyper-polarized political context such broad bipartisan support is sadly lacking.

That is the rub. An acceptance that protecting democracy will never, ever, ever be bipartisan, and will happen only on a partisan basis, is fundamental to accepting the reality of the situation that Democrats face.

We can go back and forth about specific misgivings that some Democrats have about S.1 — see this good Andrew Prokop report for an overview — but the core question is whether Democrats will cross that Rubicon. So doing would lead inevitably to the need to reform or end the filibuster.

Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) is the most visible obstacle here. But an unknown number of other moderate Democrats are also reluctant to cross that Rubicon, and it’s unclear how much effort Biden will put into making that happen.

And so, when these scholars warn that history is watching, those Democrats are the ones who should take heed.

Tuesday, June 01, 2021

Tuesday Male Beauty


Biden Recognizes Pride Month, Vows to Fight for LGBT Rights

The Trump/Pence regime waged a relentless war against LGBT Americans during its four years of misrule with an aim of stripping away protections and making life as difficult and insecure as possible, especially for transgender individuals.  It was part and parcel with Trump's promise to give evangelicals and Christofascists a license to discriminate against LGBT citizens.  President Biden has been working to reverse all of the Trump regime's attacks on LGBT Americans, including barring discrimination in health care services. Now, with the commencement of Pride month, Biden has not only issued a proclamation recognizing Pride, but he has also promised to continue to work LGBT citizens equal under the law.  Thankfully, in Virginia - due to Democrat control of the General Assembly and the governor's mansion - we now have nondiscrimination protections in employment, housing and public accommodation.  LGBT individuals  in 29 states are not so lucky.  A piece in the New York Times looks at how Biden is reversing Trump's policies of bigotry and discrimination.  Here are excerpts:

WASHINGTON — President Biden on Tuesday issued a presidential proclamation recognizing June as Pride Month, vowing to fight for full equality for the L.G.B.T.Q. community to be codified into law.

The official acknowledgment of Pride, a month typically defined for many in the community by marches, parades and parties across the United States, offered Mr. Biden his latest opportunity to contrast his own priorities with those of his most recent predecessor.

Last year, President Donald J. Trump steadfastly ignored Pride, refusing to acknowledge the celebration with even a presidential tweet. Embassies overseas were prohibited from flying the Pride flag.

The Trump administration also rolled back a 2016 regulation that mandated health care as a civil right for transgender patients under the Affordable Care Act, and activists worried that their rights were being systematically scrubbed after L.G.B.T. rights pages quietly disappeared in 2017 from the official White House website and other federal websites.

“For the past four years, it was difficult to get out of bed,” said Alphonso B. David, the president of the Human Rights Campaign, the largest L.G.B.T.Q. advocacy group. “It was difficult to get out of bed because you understood that you, your being, your identity were being assaulted.”

That was then.

On Tuesday, the White House noted that “after four years of relentless attacks on L.G.B.T.Q.+ rights, the Biden-Harris administration has taken historic actions to accelerate the march toward full L.G.B.T.Q.+ equality.

Since taking office, Mr. Biden has sought to restore civil rights protections for L.G.B.T.Q. people that were eliminated by Mr. Trump. On his first day as president, Mr. Biden signed an executive order that combats discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation.

That resulted in the Department of Health and Human Services prohibiting providers from discriminating against gay and transgender individuals and restoring protections for transgender people seeking emergency shelter and homeless services.

And during his first address to a joint session of Congress, Mr. Biden said he would continue pressing lawmakers to pass the Equality Act, which would provide civil rights protections to the L.G.B.T.Q. community.

[T]he White House noted on Tuesday that 14 percent of all presidential appointees identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer. Pete Buttigieg, the transportation secretary, was the first openly gay cabinet secretary confirmed by the Senate, and Dr. Rachel Levine, the assistant secretary for health in the Department of Health and Human Services, was the first openly transgender federal official to be confirmed by the Senate.

But state legislatures across the country are advancing measures that seek to limit rights. On Tuesday, Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, a Republican, signed into law a bill that barred transgender female student-athletes from competing in women’s sports. Across the country, there are currently 250 bills that seek to target transgender people and limit local protections. Of those, 24, including Mr. DeSantis’s bill, have been signed, according to the Human Rights Campaign.

Mr. Biden, a politician whose own views on gay rights have evolved over his decades in public life, did not always identify with the positions of the L.G.B.T.Q. activists with whom he consulted during the presidential transition, seeking policy recommendations.

Some of his Democratic presidential primary opponents, like Senator Bernie Sanders, independent of Vermont, tried to make an issue of those votes during the campaign last year. But gay rights advocates have generally accepted that the views of Democratic leaders have evolved significantly over the years, and they credit Mr. Biden with being ahead of many other elected officials in his party.

As vice president, for instance, Mr. Biden was the highest-ranking Democrat to initially endorse same-sex marriage in 2012, disclosing his position in a television interview. He was credited with pushing President Barack Obama to express his support for gay marriage a few days later.

Monday, May 31, 2021

More Memorial Day Male Beauty


Young GOP Leaders Sold Out Their Generation

As congressional Republicans continue their push to protect insurrectionists and likely avoid having some of their members implicated, younger members of the Republican caucus have also betrayed their contemporaries some of whom had hoped for a renewed, more progressive conservative movement.    Now, young moderates have either left the GOP or been defeated by right wing challengers as the party base has embraced white supremacy and religious extremism with a vengeance.  Meanwhile, younger voters have exited from the GOP in percentages ranging ranging up from 25% , leaving the GOP even more dependent on voter suppression and/or stealing elections as the GOP base shrinks.  A column in the New York Times looks at this betrayal of the younger generations.  Here are highlights:

Once upon a time, a shiny new trio of young conservatives — Ryan Costello, Carlos Curbelo and Elise Stefanik — wanted to help build a modern, millennial Republican Party. The 30-somethings, all sworn into Congress in 2015, understood that millennials often agreed on many of the nation’s core problems, and believed it was up to them to offer conservative solutions. They were out to create a new G.O.P. for the 21st century.

It was clear, even then, that millennial voters across the political spectrum cared more about issues like racial diversity, L.G.B.T.Q. rights and college affordability than their parents did. Polls showed that young Republicans were more moderate on some issues than older ones, particularly on questions of immigration and climate change.

So Mr. Curbelo and Ms. Stefanik teamed up to fight for immigration reform, particularly for protections for young immigrants. They refused to join the right wing’s fight against marriage equality, likely recognizing that most young people embraced L.G.B.T.Q. rights. And Ms. Stefanik introduced a 2017 resolution, along with Mr. Costello and Mr. Curbelo, calling for American innovation to fight climate change — one of the strongest climate change statements to come out of the Republican Party in years.

But their visions of the “America of tomorrow” hadn’t foreseen Donald Trump.

By 2018, Mr. Trump’s antics had helped lead Mr. Costello to opt for early retirement. That fall Mr. Curbelo, a sharp critic of the president, lost his re-election bid. Mia Love, the only Black Republican woman in Congress, was also defeated in the Democratic wave that year. Another young House Republican, Justin Amash, left the party in the face of Trumpism and dropped his bid for re-election in 2020. And Will Hurd, a young moderate and one of the few Black Republicans in the House in recent years, also decided not to run again.

Ms. Stefanik is one of the few of this set who survived, but only by transforming into a MAGA warrior. . . . But a comparison of her past goals and present ambitions makes clear that Ms. Stefanik has morphed from optimist to operator, choosing short-term power over the long-term health of her party.

Now she has tied her political career to the man who has perhaps done more than any other Republican to drive young voters away from her party, resulting in surging youth turnout for Democrats in the 2018 and 2020 elections.

Ms. Stefanik’s rise — and her colleagues’ fall — is not just a parable of Trumpism. It’s a broader omen for a party struggling to reach a 21st-century electorate. . . . . The G.O.P. has embraced a political form of youth sacrifice, immolating their hopes for young supporters in order to appease an ancient, vengeful power.

Mr. Trump didn’t just devastate the G.O.P.’s fledgling class of up-and-coming talent. He also rattled the already precarious loyalty of young Republican voters; from December 2015 to March 2017, nearly half of Republicans under 30 left the party, according to Pew. Many returned, but by 2017, nearly a quarter of young conservatives had defected.