Saturday, June 12, 2021

More Saturday Male Beauty


A Much Needed Look at Glenn Youngkin's "Business Experience"

Glenn Youngkin's gubernatorial campaign ads stress his business experience and are aimed to give the unaware the impression that he built a traditional business.  Such is not the case.  The Carlyle Group, which Youngkin headed  and made a $260+ million fortune in the process, is a private equity fund catering to very wealthy investors (including some unsavory ones).  As a lengthy piece in the New York Times  private equity funds have an aim of avoiding the payment of taxes - often by legally questionable means - and unfortunately are not regularly audited by the IRS.  The Security and Exchange Commission's website provides this description of the unregulated nature of private equity funds:  

Although a private equity fund may be advised by an adviser that is registered with the SEC, private equity funds themselves are not registered with the SEC.  As a result, private equity funds are not subject to regular public disclosure requirements.   

Does Virginia need a man as governor who made a career of further enriching the very wealthy and, in my opinion, possibly cheating the government out of taxes (I am not stating that Carlyle Group definitely did this and refer readers to the Times story highlights below)?  I would argue "no", especially when combined with Youngkin's far right Christian from The Family Foundation.   Here are highlights from the Times: 

There were two weeks left in the Trump administration when the Treasury Department handed down a set of rules governing an obscure corner of the tax code.

Overseen by a senior Treasury official whose previous job involved helping the wealthy avoid taxes, the new regulations represented a major victory for private equity firms. They ensured that executives in the $4.5 trillion industry, whose leaders often measure their yearly pay in eight or nine figures, could avoid paying hundreds of millions in taxes.

The rules were approved on Jan. 5, the day before the riot at the U.S. Capitol. Hardly anyone noticed.

The industry has perfected sleight-of-hand tax-avoidance strategies so aggressive that at least three private equity officials have alerted the Internal Revenue Service to potentially illegal tactics, according to people with direct knowledge of the claims and documents reviewed by The New York Times. The previously unreported whistle-blower claims involved tax dodges at dozens of private equity firms.

But the I.R.S., its staff hollowed out after years of budget cuts, has thrown up its hands when it comes to policing the politically powerful industry.

One reason they rarely face audits is that private equity firms have deployed vast webs of partnerships to collect their profits. Partnerships do not owe income taxes. Instead, they pass those obligations on to their partners, who can number in the thousands at a large private equity firm. That makes the structures notoriously complicated for auditors to untangle.

People earning less than $25,000 are at least three times more likely to be audited than partnerships, whose income flows overwhelmingly to the richest 1 percent of Americans.

The consequences of that imbalance are enormous.

By one recent estimate, the United States loses $75 billion a year from investors in partnerships failing to report their income accurately — at least some of which would probably be recovered if the I.R.S. conducted more audits. That’s enough to roughly double annual federal spending on education.

It is also a dramatic understatement of the true cost. It doesn’t include the ever-changing array of maneuvers — often skating the edge of the law — that private equity firms have devised to help their managers avoid income taxes on the roughly $120 billion the industry pays its executives each year.

When it comes to bankrolling the federal government, the richest of America’s rich — many of them hailing from the private equity industry — play by an entirely different set of rules than everyone else.

The result is that men like Blackstone Group’s chief executive, Stephen A. Schwarzman, who earned more than $610 million last year, can pay federal taxes at rates similar to the average American.

The private equity industry, which has a fleet of almost 200 lobbyists and has doled out nearly $600 million in campaign contributions over the last decade, has repeatedly derailed past efforts to increase its tax burden.

“If you’re a wealthy cheat in a partnership, your odds of getting audited are slightly higher than your odds of getting hit by a meteorite,” Mr. Rettig said. “For the sake of fairness and for the sake of the budget, it makes a lot more sense to go after cheating by the big guys than focus on working people.” Yet that is not what the I.R.S. has done.

Private equity firms already enjoyed bargain-basement tax rates on their carried interest. Now, Mr. Polsky wrote, they had devised a way to get the same low rate applied to their 2 percent management fees.

In a nutshell, private equity firms and other partnerships could waive a portion of their 2 percent management fees and instead receive a greater share of future investment profits. It was a bit of paper shuffling that radically lowered their tax bills without reducing their income.  The technique had a name: “fee waiver.”

“It’s like laundering your fees into capital gains,” said Mr. Polsky, whose paper argued that the I.R.S. could use longstanding provisions of the tax code to crack down on fee waivers. “They put magic words into a document to turn ordinary income into capital gains. They have zero economic substance, and they get away with it.”

The arrangements all had the same basic structure. Say a private equity manager was set to receive a $1 million management fee, which would be taxed as ordinary income, now at a 37 percent rate. Under the fee waiver, the manager would instead agree to collect $1 million as a share of future profits, which he would claim was a capital gain subject to the 20 percent tax. He’d still receive the same amount of money, but he’d save $170,000 in taxes.

One would have to live in a fantasy world to believe Youngkin would look out for average Virginians if he were to win the governorship in November.

Saturday Morning Male Beauty


The Southern Baptist Convention's Sexist Theology Engenders Misogynies

Many of the Roman Catholic Church's modern day problems stem from its continued embrace of 12th century dogma on sex and sexuality and a rejection of modern knowledge and science on those issues.  This warped dogma - along with a mindset of protecting the institution over all else - set the stage for sexual abuse of children and youths and the literally worldwide cover up of crimes by Catholic clergy. Thankfully, Church membership is falling even though an increase in Hispanic immigrants has tended to mask the problem.  Of late, the Southern Baptist Convention ("SBC") is getting long over due attention paid to its similarly warped and sexist theology, along with a spot light on the denomination's racism and sexual abuse by clergy problems.  Why do I focus on the SBC's problems?  Two reasons: (i) the desire to expose the hypocrisy and malignancy of "conservative" Christianity, and (ii) the SBC is an integral part of the Republican Party base and to the extent it is significantly weakened through membership losses and discrediting, it undermines the GOP and its ugly agenda.   A column in the Washington Post looks at the SBC's toxic theology.  Here are highlights:

Years ago, I lived in New York City and attended Grace Church, a historic Episcopal parish on Broadway at 10th Street. The beauty of the Gothic-style building was matched by the glorious choir. Yet the most memorable aspect of the experience was the frequent preaching of the Rev. Fleming Rutledge, who is regarded as one of the most intelligent pulpit presences in Christendom.

I mention that wonderful experience as a way of introducing the latest controversy inside the Southern Baptist Convention. Internal letters and secret recordings leaked in recent days suggest that the nation’s largest (though dwindling) Protestant denomination has not come to grips with the problem of sexually predatory pastors.

That failing cannot be separated, it seems to me, from the theological sexism at the top of the SBC. When the convention holds its annual meeting this week, a key bit of business will be the reaffirmation of a doctrine euphemistically called complementarianism. It holds that even so great a preacher as Fleming Rutledge is an abomination on account of the fact that Fleming Rutledge is a woman.

Mike Stone, former chairman of the SBC executive committee and a leading candidate for the denomination presidency, is a firm proponent of complementarianism, which says men and women have separate roles, and men are the ones in charge.

Among the nearly 800,000 words in the Bible, one sentence seems to contain Stone’s thinking on this matter. It’s from a letter the Apostle Paul wrote to his protege, Timothy: “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.”

(The Georgia minister operates an elaborate website boasting of his gifts as “preacher-shepherd-leader” — which suggests he may be less fixated on James 4:6: “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”)

Hold this in mind as we look at the leaks: No woman has anything to teach a man; the lowliest person with a Y chromosome is superior to every double X. That 2,000-year-old claptrap was rattling around in Stone’s brain when the former head of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, Russell Moore [pictured above], gave Rachael Denhollander a forum in which to criticize the way the executive committee handled an employee’s sexual assault complaint.

Denhollander said at a conference arranged by Moore’s influential ethics commission that the SBC’s executive committee, under Stone’s leadership, had twisted facts and altered statements to make it appear that the complaining employee had consented to an affair. According to Moore, who has resigned from the commission and taken a pastorate at a non-SBC church, women complaining of sexual abuse were compared to “Potiphar’s wife,” a character in the Book of Genesis who lodges a false accusation against the biblical hero Joseph.

Stone countered with a rather fact-free dismissal of everything Moore charged. “This attack is a deflection from the fact that Russell’s leadership of the ERLC has been an ongoing source of division and distraction for Southern Baptists,” he averred.

That’s a veiled reference to Moore’s outspoken criticism of the evangelicals’ embrace of Donald Trump. But it is a distraction. Respect for women and their right to be free of sexual harassment and assault should not be filtered through politics. It is a matter of basic morals, that foundational principle expressed in Matthew 7:12 and known as the Golden Rule.

More than two years after the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News produced a devastating look at sexual abuse in the SBC, the denomination has not taken the steps necessary to address the problem. Can that really surprise anyone? Men who believe that no woman’s voice should be heard in the pulpit, and that no woman should be trusted with authority, can hardly be expected to listen when women speak the truth about men in positions of power. Thus, bad theology begets bad policy, and bad policy begets moral decay.

With luck the scrutiny of the SBA will intensify and remain in the news and the exodus of younger generations from toxic forms of institutional religion will increase. 

Friday, June 11, 2021

Friday Morning Male Beauty


Why Won’t Republicans Rebuild America?

While 5 Senate Democrats and 5 Senate Republicans claim to have  reached a new deal on infrastructure on Thursday, agreeing to a nearly $1 trillion, five-year package to improve the country’s roads, bridges, pipes and Internet connections, whether it can secure passage in the Senate remains to be seen, especially in the face of Mitch "Moscow Mitch" McConnell's pledge to block any bills that might be viewed by the public as a success.  In addition to seeking to make Biden a "failed president" in the way McConnell sought to stymie Obama, today's GOP opposes any increase in taxes on the super wealthy and large corporations, many of which pay little or no taxes and opposes any program or policies that might convince their constituents that government can play a positive role in their lives.  A column in the New York Times looks at today's GOP anti-American agenda and contrasts it with what the GOP once supported.  Here are highlights:

On June 26, 1956, Congress approved the Interstate Highway Act. Dwight Eisenhower signed the bill three days later. The legislation allocated $24.8 billion in federal funds for a down payment on the construction of an interstate highway system.

That’s not a lot of money by current standards, but prices are far higher now than they were then, and the economy is vastly bigger. Measured as a share of gross domestic product, the act was the equivalent of around $1.2 trillion today. And the interstate highway system wasn’t the only major federal investment program; the government was also spending substantial sums on things like dam-building and the creation of the St. Lawrence Seaway.

It was, in short, a time when politicians were willing to make bold investments in America’s future. And there was remarkable consensus on the need for those investments. The highway act — paid for with higher taxes on gasoline and user fees — passed the House on a voice vote and in the Senate received only one dissent.

But that was a different America — or, not to obscure the reality of what has changed, a different Republican Party.

I felt an urge to cheer when President Biden declared an end to discussions with Senate Republicans over infrastructure. . . . . it was obvious to anyone who remembered the 2009-2010 fight over health care that the G.O.P. wasn’t negotiating in good faith, that it was simply dragging the process out and would eventually reject anything Biden might agree to. The sooner this farce ended, the better.

But how and why did Republicans become the party of “build we won’t”? I see it as a mix of partisanship, ideology and profiteering. . . . . a party that was willing to sabotage the Obama economy is surely even more inclined to sabotage a president whom many of its members refuse to accept as legitimate. Increased public investment is popular, especially if paid for with higher taxes on corporations and the wealthy. It would also create jobs. But with a Democrat in the White House, those are reasons for Republicans to block infrastructure spending, not support it.

Ever since Reagan Republicans have been committed to the view that government is always the problem, never the solution — and, of course, that taxes must always be cut, never increased. They’re not going to make an exception for infrastructure. Indeed, the very fact that infrastructure spending would be popular counts against it; they fear that it might help legitimize a broader role for government in general.

Finally, the modern Republican Party seems deeply allergic to any kind of public program that doesn’t give profit-making private players a big role, even if it’s hard to see what purpose those private players serve. For example, unlike the rest of Medicare, drug coverage, introduced under George W. Bush, can be accessed only through private insurance companies.

When Trump’s advisers unveiled their infrastructure “plan” (it was little more than a vague sketch) . . . it proposed a complex and surely unworkable system of tax credits to private investors who would, it was hoped, build the infrastructure we needed.

If Trump’s people had ever gotten around to an infrastructure plan, it would probably have looked like the one investment program the administration did put into effect, the creation of “opportunity zones” that were supposed to help Americans living in low-income areas. What that program actually ended up doing was provide a bonanza to wealthy investors, who used the tax break to build things like luxury housing.

The modern G.O.P. just won’t do public programs unless they offer vast opportunities for profiteering. . . . The reality is that if we get the infrastructure plan we need, it will be passed through reconciliation with little or no Republican support. And the sooner we get to that point, the better.

Thursday, June 10, 2021

More Thursday Male Beauty


The Fight for the Heart of the Southern Baptist Convention

As numerous post over a period of years have noted, the Southern Baptist Convention ("SBC") has a huge sex abuse problem that the SBC leadership - much like the Vatican under Pope John Paul II - has sought to cover up and in the process has further abused and slandered victims of abuse by SBC pastors.  But the SBC has another major problem which may well decide the long term future of the Convention: open racism.  (A third problem is the Convention leadership's virulent homophobia which is the topic of a future post).  In the 1970's arch reactionaries gained control of the SBC leadership and some churches - e.g., the Baptist church my late in-laws attended - opted to leave the SBC.  Over the intervening years, churches that opted to be LGBT welcoming were thrown out of the Convention.  But the racial issue always simmered under the surface until it exploded into the open by the SBC leadership's embrace of Donald Trump and his open white nationalism.  With a new president of the SBC to be elected (reactionary candidate Albert Mohler is pictured above), many pastors of color - I suspect many younger Baptists - are preparing to leave if  one of the reactionary candidates is elected.  This exodus would be on top of historic loses in members in 2020.  A piece in the New Yorker looks at the growing divide over race within the denomination that arose out of the goal of supporting slavery.  Here are highlights:

In a recent Friday afternoon, Dwight McKissic sat at a folding table in his three-car garage, on a cul-de-sac in Arlington, Texas, discussing the role that race plays in a growing divide among American evangelicals. McKissic is sixty-four, with a trim white goatee and an imposing stature. For the past thirty-eight years, he has served as the lead pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church, which he grew from a few dozen people to roughly four thousand congregants. In the process, he has become a prominent member of the Southern Baptist Convention, which, with more than fourteen million members, is the largest Protestant denomination in the United States. But McKissic is also one of a growing number of pastors of color who may leave the S.B.C. next week, amid allegations that the organization won’t collectively acknowledge the realities of systemic racism. “I’m hanging on by a thread,” he told me. “Dozens of other pastors have already called me to ask what I’m going to do.”

McKissic thought that it would be hard for an outsider to understand why he’d joined the S.B.C., which has a long and painful history around race. But he’d also seen the organization do a lot of good. He was raised in a Black Baptist church, and, when he started Cornerstone, in 1983, the S.B.C. had helped out with funding.

Until recently, much of the racism that he’d encountered in the S.B.C. was “passive,” McKissic said. But after the election of Donald Trump, in 2016, he felt that the racist rhetoric became more overt. McKissic was also unsettled by what he saw as a growing antipathy toward allowing women to serve in leadership roles in the church. The tensions came to a head over the teachings of critical race theory, a loose set of academic tools used to identify systemic racism. C.R.T. emerged in legal scholarship in the seventies, as a method of examining how the law perpetuates racial injustice. Recently, though, it has become a kind of bogeyman for the right: last year, Trump tweeted that critical race theory was “a sickness that cannot be allowed to continue. Please report any sightings so we can quickly extinguish!” His Administration also issued a memo ordering federal anti-racism training programs to stop using the theory.

For the past few years, prominent members of the S.B.C., including Albert Mohler, the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, the denomination’s oldest academic institution, have demonized C.R.T., calling it, among other things, Marxist and anti-Biblical. Critics have frightened S.B.C. members with the prospect that the theory could soon be used in public schools to indoctrinate children against conservative values.

Throughout 2020, state chapters passed resolutions rejecting critical race theory. Then, last November, on the heels of the nationwide Black Lives Matter protests sparked by the murder of George Floyd, the presidents of S.B.C.’s six seminaries issued an incendiary statement calling C.R.T. “incompatible with the Baptist Faith & Message.” This outraged many pastors of color; none had suggested applying the teachings of C.R.T to the church, but they felt that its blanket rejection was being used by white leaders to dismiss the realities of racism.

In Texas, McKissic read the statement with dismay. “It’s putting lipstick on racism,” he told me. As he saw it, the fight over C.R.T. was also the fight for the future of the S.B.C. A cabal of reactionary, aging white men was trying to maintain control of the organization, and, in order to hold on to power, those men were stoking people’s fears of creeping liberalism. (A spokesperson for the S.B.C. said that it was a sprawling organization whose members held a wide range of viewpoints.) In January, 2021, McKissic wrote an article titled “We Are Getting Off The Bus,” denouncing the rejection of C.R.T. in the November statement and explaining that he was leaving a Texas chapter of the S.B.C. “I am not willing to allow them to dictate what the belief systems, definitions and authoritative binding, academic and ecclesiastical decisions [are] regarding how race is to be communicated in the local church,” he wrote.

On Twitter, the backlash to McKissic’s announcement was severe. Several days after he spoke out, he received a letter in the mail from a former S.B.C. member named John Rutledge, saying that Black people had “invaded the church” and that the issues were “beyond the Negroes’ intellectual capacities.” The letter said, of Black people, “Like two-year-olds, they know only how to whine and throw tantrums. The SBC should bid them goodbye and good riddance!”

Next week, at the group’s 2021 conference, in Nashville, its members will vote on the Convention’s next president. The choice likely lies between the three most viable candidates. One candidate is Mohler, the seminary president who was the face of the charge against C.R.T. He told me recently that C.R.T. goes against “both Christianity and modern political, classical liberty.” Another contender is Mike Stone, a pastor from South Georgia who is even more conservative than Mohler; when we spoke, he called C.R.T. a “weapon of division.” The third is Ed Litton, a soft-spoken pastor who has been involved in racial-reconciliation efforts in Mobile, Alabama, and who believes that the fight over C.R.T. has become a way to avoid talking about the need for structural change in the Southern Baptist Convention.

If either of the two hard-liners wins, McKissic will leave the S.B.C. “The trajectory of the S.B.C. will have proved to be anti-woman, and hostile to race in a way that can’t be justified by the Bible,” he said. “I just can’t, in good conscience, remain a part of a fellowship like that.”

The Southern Baptist Convention was founded, in 1845, to safeguard the institution of slavery. Northern Baptists had recently ruled that men who owned slaves were no longer permitted to serve as missionaries, and slaveholding Baptists decided to form their own group in protest. Founders of the new organization claimed that, according to the Bible, slavery was “an institution of heaven.” . . . . In 1863, the Southern Baptists pledged to support the Confederacy in the Civil War. According to a 2018 report put out by the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, on the role that slavery played within the organization, one early leader believed that “slavery was no mere necessary evil, but rather a God-ordained institution to be perpetuated.”

In the twentieth century, the S.B.C. went through a period of relative opening, allowing for wide-ranging readings of scripture and letting its academic institutions flourish. . . . But, in the late seventies, there was a backlash within the organization that came to be known as the conservative resurgence. Hard-liners took over the S.B.C., and, in the name of returning it to the teachings of the Bible, pushed back on several social issues. They fought efforts to diversify the leadership and pressed for stricter scriptural interpretations, arguing, for example, that women must submit to the will of men.

After Trump’s election, these divisions intensified. Some Convention members were shocked at what they saw as Trump’s openly xenophobic, racist, and sexist rhetoric, but those who criticized him faced swift backlash.

For many pastors of color, the Southern Baptist Convention’s future rests on what happens during the election in Nashville. Some have already begun to leave. Onwuchekwa, the pastor in Atlanta, was among the first to go. Soon after the death of George Floyd, he gathered about two hundred members of his congregation on Zoom to vote on abandoning the S.B.C. . . . leaving was a principled decision: How could they represent an entity that was increasingly hostile to the needs they were addressing on the street? “The S.B.C. is going backwards,” he said. Voting by Zoom poll, ninety-seven per cent of his congregation decided that the church should leave the Convention.

In December, several more prominent pastors of color followed suit, including Charlie Dates, of Chicago’s Progressive Baptist Church, and Ralph West, who leads the Church Without Walls, a church with nine thousand members in Houston, Texas. West, like others, grew troubled by the aggressive tone that the S.B.C. adopted while Trump was in office. “With their invective and rhetoric, they were providing theological cover for the extreme right,” he said.

I would be highly shocked if the moderate Litton gets elected.  Unless this happens, expect the SBC to become even more supportive of white nationalism and more active in dissemination lies and hate.  If this happens, with luck, the exodus of blacks and younger members will become a stampede.  


Thursday Morning Male Beauty


McAuliffe’s Chance to Defy History Once Again

Living in Virginia, one no sooner recovers from one round of political contests than the next cycle begins, this time in 2021 at the state level.  While all elections are important and have consequences, Virginia's 2021 statewide contests are critical to Democrats who do not want to see progressive legislation repealed or undermined by a Republican in the governor's mansion or Republicans retaking control of the House of Delegates.  LGBT Virginians and minorities should be especially concerned given the reality that the GOP gubernatorial candidate, Glenn Youngkinis (i) endorsed by Donald Trump, and (ii) the darling of the anti-LGBT hate merchants and racists at The Family Foundation.  Democrat turnout in the so-called urban crescent will be critical, especially in Hampton Roads.  A piece at Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball assesses the situation.  Here are highlights:

[I]t’ll be former Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) versus Glenn Youngkin (R) for the Virginia governorship this fall. We continue to rate the race to replace outgoing Gov. Ralph Northam (D-VA) as Leans Democratic. McAuliffe is favored, but not overwhelmingly so.

Youngkin has a path, although he’ll have to simultaneously appeal to hard-core Donald Trump voters as well as lapsed Republicans who have voted Democratic in recent years. A significant factor for the fall is one over which neither candidate has control: perceptions of President Joe Biden. If Biden’s modest honeymoon continues, and his approval rating remains over 50%, Youngkin may struggle to make the case against McAuliffe and continuing Democratic control of Richmond. But if there’s some downtick for Biden, that could threaten McAuliffe. The former governor won his first term in 2013 even amidst trouble for national Democrats . . . but McAuliffe also only narrowly escaped against a hard-right challenger, then-state Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R).

In picking McAuliffe and Youngkin, Virginians of both parties selected nominees that are within the mainstream of their respective parties. That’s another way of saying neither are really moderates, but voters also passed on more ideological options in the respective party nominating contests.

Despite what turned out to be a predictable and uncompetitive primary, Democratic turnout on Tuesday was robust, at least by Virginia standards. Votes are still being counted, but it appears that around 485,000 votes were cast in the Democratic primary, not that too far shy of the 540,000 cast four years ago. The Democratic turnout four years ago was cited by many as a sign of the white-hot Democratic voter engagement in Virginia just months after Donald Trump had won the White House.

The key question is whether Virginia has become so Democratic that a Republican can’t win here anymore. We don’t think that’s the case, but Republicans haven’t won a statewide contest in a dozen years, and Biden just posted the biggest presidential win in Virginia by a Democrat in the post-World War II era.

In order to win, Youngkin needs to do a little more than 10 points better statewide than Donald Trump did in 2020. A half-century’s worth of modern Virginia gubernatorial races show such an improvement is very much achievable, but there are important caveats to the history.

Of the 13 modern gubernatorial races, the party that didn’t hold the White House won 10 of them. Holton is one of the exceptions, and he was followed four years later by former Gov. Mills Godwin (R), who performed the same feat that McAuliffe is attempting: winning two nonconsecutive terms as the Old Dominion’s chief executive. . . . McAuliffe was the third and most recent presidential party candidate to break the Virginia governorship’s familiar White House jinx, and if he wins this fall, he’ll be the fourth.

Virginia has changed dramatically in the course of this timeframe, going from a state that voted considerably to the right of the nation in presidential elections to one that votes to its left.

What would a Youngkin victory look like? For one thing, Youngkin would be the first modern Republican gubernatorial nominee, in all likelihood, to win without carrying any of the fast-growing suburban/exurban enclaves of Henrico County in Greater Richmond and Loudoun and Prince William counties in Northern Virginia. . . . Youngkin will need to cut Democratic margins in these counties, but winning them is unrealistic, at least in a close race. Youngkin also will need GOP-friendly turnout and giant margins in sparsely-populated but now extremely Republican western Virginia.

Localities Youngkin almost certainly will have to flip back to Republicans after Biden carried them include Chesterfield (in Greater Richmond), Stafford (between Northern Virginia’s bigger population centers and Richmond along I-95), and — perhaps most importantly — the big Republican-leaning swing cities in Hampton Roads, Chesapeake and Virginia Beach. Both voted for Trump in 2016, but flipped to Northam in 2017 and Biden in 2020. Many observers see Hampton Roads as a key not only to the statewide races but also to the battle over the state House of Delegates, where Democrats won a 55-45 majority two years ago. . . . If Youngkin puts up a strong showing in the governor’s race, he could provide enough lift to down-ballot Republican candidates to flip the Virginia House even if he himself does not win.

Beyond the gubernatorial race, Virginia Democrats also chose their nominees for lieutenant governor and attorney general, which are the state’s other two statewide elected positions. Incumbent Attorney General Mark Herring (D) fended off a challenge from state Del. Jay Jones (D) as he seeks a third term (while Virginia governors cannot run for reelection to consecutive terms, there are no term limits for the other two statewide elected positions). State Del. Hala Ayala (D) defeated several other Democratic contenders for the lieutenant gubernatorial nod. Ayala will face former state Del. Winsome Sears (R) for the lieutenant governor post, and Herring will face state Del. Jason Miyares (R). Both Herring and Ayala are from Northern Virginia, as is McAuliffe; Miyares represents and Sears represented state House districts in Hampton Roads, while Youngkin lived in the area for a time as a teenager.

Perhaps the composition of the Republican ticket could help in that electorally-vital Tidewater region. Meanwhile, the Democrats are all from Northern Virginia, the vote-rich engine that powers Democratic statewide victories. Ultimately, we doubt there’s much significance to the geographic makeup of the tickets, but we suspect the all-NOVA composition of the Democratic ticket will get some attention.

While the margins in the three statewide races won’t be identical, they likely will track relatively closely with one another. So the best bet is a sweep for one side or the other, unless all the races are decided by slim margins. The same party has swept all three races in the last three elections.

Virginia appears likely to have the most competitive gubernatorial race of 2021.

Wednesday, June 09, 2021

More Wednesday Male Beauty


A Youngkin Win Would Endanger Virginia's Election Process

Now that he has won the Democrat nomination for governor in November, Terry McAuliffe needs to double down on his GOP opponent, Glenn Youngkin's extremism and Democrats of all stripes need to wake up to the severe threat a Youngkin victory would pose to the Commonwealth. Remarkably, even some conservatives at Bearing Drift - which touts itself as "Virginia's conservative voice" - are sounding the alarm and depicting Youngkin as a Trump minion who champions the "Big Lie" and lacks any real agenda other than "election integrity" which translates to undermining true open elections.  Anyone who believes Trump isn't on the ballot in November is very, very wrong.  A column looks at this threat and how is at stake and urges all Virginians to vote against Youngkin.  Here are excerpts: 

Glenn Youngkin, Republican nominee for Governor, has almost no record in public service, except for a bad trade deal. He makes up for it by discussing almost no issues in his campaign except for “election integrity” – a dog whistle to proponents of the Big Lie, which he himself refused to refute until he was nominated.

So what would “election integrity” mean for Virginia in a Youngkin Administration? The best example is Arizona – and that should be enough to keep any voter from choosing Youngkin or his GOP ticket-mates this fall.

Under pressure for the Big Lie Caucus, the Arizona Senate majority seized Maricopa County ballots for an “audit.” Then they handed them over to a firm run by a Big Lie proponent. “Cyber Ninjas” (yes, that’s the firm’s name) has done such a bang-up job that even audit proponents are throwing them under the bus.

Now, in Arizona, the State Senate Republicans had to go through the courts to inflict this nonsense on Maricopa County voters. Under Youngkin, RPV won’t have that problem. Why? Because a Youngkin victory hands control of every election board in the state to the Republicans. From there, any board in any locality can rerun the Arizona horror show.

No wonder Amanda “Trump Won in Virginia” Chase is backing Youngkin now. She knows that if Trump runs in 2024, GOP-controlled election boards can make sure he wins Virginia no matter how anyone in the Commonwealth actually votes.

If that sounds alarmist to you, it’s because you’re not sufficiently alarmed. Georgia’s legislative majority has already given itself the power to control state elections and to remove local election boards it doesn’t like.

Texas’ legislature nearly succeeded in removing proof of fraud as a reason to overturn an election. In both states (and Arizona), this has been driven by the fact that the people making up the election infrastructure weren’t sufficiently Trumpist enough to declare Republican victories despite Democratic majorities in the number of votes.

In Virginia, election board control (and the Secretary of State post) depends on one thing and one thing only: who the Governor is.

This is how a pretty face like Glenn Youngkin can let his party fatally undermine democracy in the Commonwealth. Virginia voters would be wise to prevent that from happening.

Wednesday Morning Male Beauty


Joe Manchin Endangers America and Retreats to Fantasyland

America may be in the waning days of democracy and, if this proves to be true, history will likely view Senator Joe Manchin as either having been insane and lost in a fantasyland or a willing accomplice in the Republican Party plan to enshrine a fascist-like permanent minority rule. Insanity is sometimes described as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Under this definition, Manchin's fantasy that somehow the Trump GOP will somehow morph back into the GOP of Eisenhower or even Nixon is simply detached from reality.  It's simply is not going to happen and Manchin is being played - willingly it would seem.  A column in the Washington Post looks at Manchin's fantasyland and the threat it poses to the nation.  Here are highlights:

Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) has the right to live in a make-believe wonderland if he so chooses. But his party and his nation will pay a terrible price for his hallucinations about the nature of today’s Republican Party. And even this sacrifice might not guarantee that Manchin can hold on to support back home.

Manchin’s declaration Sunday that he will vote against sweeping legislation to guarantee voting rights nationwide and that he “will not vote to weaken or eliminate” the Senate filibuster is a huge blow to President Biden’s hopes of enacting his ambitious agenda. There’s no way to spin this as anything other than awful.

Manchin’s decision is a catastrophe not just for this particular bill, though he has almost certainly doomed the legislation. A senior administration official told me Monday that “none of this is a surprise to those who have heard Manchin’s views” and that the White House will continue working to “make progress notwithstanding the difficult challenges in front of us, including a 50-vote Senate.” But thanks to Manchin’s decision, Biden doesn’t even have a 50-vote Senate for what many Democrats see as an existential fight against the GOP’s attempt to gain and keep power through voter suppression.

Worse, Manchin is asking Democrats to respond to ruthlessness with delusion. In an op-ed in the West Virginia paper the Charleston Gazette-Mail, Manchin said he will oppose the For the People Act, passed by the House in March, because it has no Republican support.

Manchin did say he supports another proposed House bill, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would essentially restore provisions of the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act forbidding some states to change election laws without obtaining preclearance from the Justice Department. . . . But Manchin wants this, too, to win bipartisan support. Unless Manchin changes his position on the filibuster, 10 Republican senators would have to cross the aisle and join with Democrats. So far, there is one — Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). The other nine must be in some parallel dimension, visible only to Manchin, where all the leprechauns, tooth fairies and unicorns are hiding.

[T]he fact is that one of our major parties — the one Manchin ostensibly belongs to — believes in guaranteeing access to the polls for all eligible voters, making political donations more transparent, tightening ethics rules for members of Congress and ensuring that congressional districts are drawn fairly. The other party doesn’t want to do any of those things, because Republicans see these reforms as threatening the GOP’s ability to win national elections with the support of a minority of voters.

Look, I understand the reality of Manchin’s situation. He is himself a political unicorn — a Democrat sent to the Senate by one of the most Republican states in the country. But insisting on bipartisanship in all things might not be a magical talisman against defeat.

But even Manchin has to hold on to his strongest supporters. Blocking Biden’s agenda and allowing GOP voter suppression are not stances that will help him win his next election or change Washington’s increasingly twisted laws of politics. In this fairy tale, Manchin is setting himself up to be the villain. 

Monday, June 07, 2021

More Monday Male Beauty


It's Time to Defy the GOP's New Anti-LGBT Laws

Across America Republican controlled legislatures have embarked on a new anti-LGBT campaign and are passing anti-LGBT and anti-transgender bills at an alarming rate.  It is a part of the GOP's agenda of racism, bigotry and pandering to religious extremism in the hope of motivating the party's increasingly hideous base of support even though surveys show that a majority of Americans support LGBT nondiscrimination protections.   And make no mistake, if Glenn Youngkin - a darling of The Family Foundation, Virginia's most powerful hate group -  wins and November and Republicans regain control of the General Assembly, such laws will be introduced in Virginia. Such discriminatory laws would be a dream come true for the hate mongers at The Family Foundation.  A piece in the New York Times the need for business owners and those in positions of authority to defy such laws.  Here are highlights:

Last month, Gov. Bill Lee of Tennessee signed into law a discriminatory bill to prevent transgender people from using restrooms aligning with their gender identity at any business or place of public accommodation. A few days earlier, Governor Lee signed an anti-transgender student bathroom bill, too. These are the first bathroom bills to be enacted since North Carolina’s notorious HB2 in 2016.

Far from state legislative outliers, these new laws are the latest in a series of unprecedented legislative assaults aimed at trans people that have swept state houses this year, officially making 2021 the worst year for anti-L.G.B.T.Q. legislation in recent history.

L.G.B.T.Q. Americans — and particularly transgender and nonbinary people — are not simply living in a state of emergency, we are living in many states of imminent danger. The usual calls to action aren’t enough against these threats; we are now firmly in the territory of needing those in positions of authority to actively defy these laws — especially those enforcement agencies and leaders tasked with implementing the unconstitutional and un-American assaults on the civil rights of millions of L.G.B.T.Q. people.

This is a crucial political fight with big implications for the 2022 elections to control the House, Senate and key governors’ offices. Anti-equality extremists are clearly targeting transgender people again to score political points by demonizing marginalized communities and mischaracterizing movements like Black Lives Matter. They want to convince voters that Democrats are out of the mainstream in their efforts to prioritize the freedom and dignity of all people. Those false arguments have misled voters before, and some conservatives, like former Gov. Pat McCrory of North Carolina, will think that demonizing marginalized groups as a wedge issue can carry them to the ballot box.

But with 7 in 10 voters supporting equality and 1 in 6 youth and young adults identifying as L.G.B.T.Q., they will also learn this is a losing approach. And we cannot take anything for granted. We need to take action now to prove the anti-trans arguments are wrong and unjust and to draw maximum attention to what Republican leaders in these states are trying to do.

Defying the law is a big step, but nothing less than our civil rights are at stake. Which is why we’re taking our fight to the courtroom, challenging anti-trans laws like the one Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida signed last week.

L.G.B.T.Q. people need more ally leaders like District Attorney General Glenn Funk of Nashville, who has taken a stand against the Tennessee legislature by refusing to enforce what Mr. Funk calls “hate,” asserting, “I believe every person is welcome and valued in Nashville. Enforcement of transphobic or homophobic laws is contrary to those values.”

Defiant intervention is also needed from those expected to enforce medical care bans for trans people, which simply shock the conscience. This includes laws like those in Arkansas where legislators have banned critical, gender-affirming medical care for transgender children, and states where lawmakers are seeking to not only label a parent who supports their transgender child’s health care as a “child abuser” but also subject them and their doctors to felony jail time.

Doctors across the country have testified that children living in these states, already facing grave challenges, are being put directly in harm’s way. What’s worse, L.G.B.T.Q. people and their families are being forced to flee their homes and move across state lines to protect themselves and their children — creating a further destabilizing effect on children and families across the country.

These bills are searching for problems that don’t exist — there simply is not a sudden population explosion of trans people, nor any sort of demand for special or new rights. This is about fairness and equal treatment. And, plainly, this is about blatant and shameful Republican attempts to erase L.G.B.T.Q. people from existence. While legislators advance these bills to score political points, the consequences for the L.G.B.T.Q. community, and particularly transgender people, are destabilizing and dangerous: these bills are helping to fuel a wave of anti-trans violence.

Despite the majority of voters in the United States opposing these types of laws — including a majority of Republican voters — extremist legislators continue advancing measures at a breakneck pace. That’s why L.G.B.T.Q. Americans — living under the archaic governance of leaders who have found value in devaluing us — need more than a tweet of support for our community. We need defiant intervention from employers, educators, health care professionals, community leaders and every American who believes in equality.

Let’s remember that this country has enacted and promoted unconstitutional and discriminatory laws before that, for example, legitimized slavery, banned miscegenation and criminalized same-sex relationships — all eventually struck down because of a range of defiant interventions.

Sunday, June 06, 2021

Monday Morning Male Beauty


Education Must Encompass The Good, The Bad, and Everything In Between

Look at any dictatorship throughout history and one of the keystones to indoctrination and brainwashing has been to rewrite history and education to boost the claims and legitimacy of the autocrat and erase anything that is not consistent to the propaganda objectives of the autocrat. Be it the Bolsheviks in Russia, communist China, Castro's regime in Cuba, or the theocracies in Iran or Saudi Arabia, and the common thread is rewriting history to demonize opponents and to whitewash ugly or inconvenient historical and societal events.  Now, in America, both Republicans and Christofascists are working overtime to prevent an accurate account of America's history, including the good, bad and downright ugly from being taught in public schools. To these factions, it is beyond the pale for students to learn more about slavery's central role in many aspects of the nation's history, the genocide against Native Americans, the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy to satisfy U.S. business interests, the seizure of much of the American Southwest from Mexico, and some of the questionable aspects of the U.S. entry into the Spanish American War that saw America gain basically overseas colonies.  A main editorial in the Washington Post looks at the desperate need for students to learn all aspects of American history, not just the feel good aspects that ignore the ugly.  Here are highlights:

THE UNITED STATES has a long history of battles over what public school students should be taught. Everything from the Civil War to evolution to sex education has been subject to fierce debate, generally by boards of education. But there is something unprecedented — and truly alarming — about the current movement to limit how public school teachers can discuss race in their classrooms.

For starters, the effort to dictate what students should learn about historical and modern racism is being led by Republican lawmakers taking their cue from former president Donald Trump, demonstrating that this is more about politics and posturing than sound education policy. More importantly, if there is any time when civics education should be expanded and amplified — not constricted and limited — it is now, when democracy itself is challenged.

A proliferation of bills has been introduced this year in states across the country that define what race-related instruction can be taught in public schools and colleges. The bills, at least four of which already have been signed into law, are aimed at tamping down and turning back any momentum in schools to respond to the reckoning about race prompted by last year’s police killing of George Floyd. Particularly onerous is legislation awaiting the governor’s signature in Texas — a state that impacts school curriculums around the country because of its huge textbook market — that would not only ban critical race theory but also minimize references to slavery and anti-Mexican discrimination, while emphasizing the uplifting events and grand achievements in the nation’s past.

We should know the good, the bad, the everything,” President Biden said at this week’s 100th anniversary of the Tulsa race massacre, the annihilation of a prosperous Black neighborhood by a White mob that was long overlooked in the history books. Oklahoma is one of the states that has enacted legislation that aims to limit what students learn about racism, and its role in shaping American laws and institutions — making Mr. Biden’s rebuke of those who want to whitewash history all the more powerful.

Supporters of the statewide bans claim that public schools are indoctrinating students with “Marxist” or leftist groupthink; use of the New York Times’ prizewinning but controversial 1619 Project has become a frequent target.

[C]redence shouldn’t be given to the cynical notion that teachers can’t be trusted. “I give the students the facts and let them draw their own conclusions. That’s what learning is,” said a Dallas middle school teacher, articulating a core principle of pedagogy that should be animating the debate about how history is taught.

Three months ago, Educating for American Democracy, a scholastic initiative to redesign K-12 history and civic education for the 21st century, released a road map for states and school districts to strengthen the teaching of civics and history, and make it more inclusive. It didn’t set out a specific curriculum. It didn’t choose between a view of America as a land of glory or one that sees only racial injustice and exploitation.

[I]ts message — the result of two years of study by more than 300 historians, political scientists and educators from diverse backgrounds and different political viewpoints — was to embrace and celebrate the contradictions, tensions and paradoxes in the country’s past, challenging students to think critically and form their own judgments. States should stop the misguided political interference that is already having a chilling effect on teachers and follow the lead of this thoughtful initiative.

More Sunday Male Beauty


A Supreme Court Case Poses a Threat to LGBT Foster Children

As long time readers know, I have a huge problem with religious affiliated organizations receiving taxpayer funds and then discriminating against members of the public, LGBT individuals in particular, but frequently those of other faiths as well. Such organization hypocritically claim that barring them from discriminating infringes on their "religious freedom" and First Amendment rights as if they have an unassailable right to public funds while furthering their sectarian agenda.  Now, a case brought by a Catholic foster care agency before the U.S. Supreme Court could cause irreparable to would be LBGT foster parents, and worse yet, LGBT youth who would be placed in anti-LGBT home that would potentially inflict severe emotional and psychological harm to them.  Sadly, LGBT youth are disproportionately represented among children needing foster care - some studies show that between 24% and 34% are LGBT - often because they have been discarded by their homophobic parents.  Given the reactionary majority on the Court, the case could enshrine the right of discriminatory religious organizations to receive public support, something that smacks of violating the anti-establishment clause of the First Amendment.  An op-ed in the New York Times looks at this serious threat.  Here are highlights:

The Supreme Court is expected to rule this month on a case that could upend, in the name of religious freedom, 50 years of progress in the effort to provide better support for L.G.B.T.Q. children in the foster system. Such a decision would be a devastating setback for all children in foster care, and set a dangerous precedent that could have broad repercussions.

The question the court has been asked to decide is whether the city of Philadelphia can bar Catholic Social Services from screening future foster parents. The agency claims a religious right under the First Amendment’s free exercise clause to exclude lesbian and gay couples as foster parents.

If the court’s conservative majority rules in favor of Catholic Social Services, the most obvious losers would be prospective lesbian and gay foster parents. Yet those with the biggest stake are L.G.B.T.Q. children and adolescents. A ruling for the agency would not only threaten hard-won advances to recognize and support L.G.B.T.Q. youth, but would embolden foster care agencies across the country to acquiesce in and perpetuate discrimination against L.G.B.T.Q. people.

On any given day, there are over 400,000 children and adolescents in foster care in the United States. Trauma is built into the system. Children are typically removed from their families of origin because of reports of abuse or neglect, or because a guardian has died or been incarcerated. . . . various studies, including one published in 2019 in the journal Pediatrics, show that L.G.B.T.Q. young people are over represented, with rates ranging from 24 to 34 percent.

Many are pushed out of their family homes because of homophobia and transphobia; once in foster care, they are often more vulnerable to harassment and abuse. L.G.B.T.Q.-affirming foster parents offer the best chance of providing a supportive home for those children and adolescents if they can’t remain with their families. This case directly threatens them.

When the case, Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, was argued before the Supreme Court in November, lawyers for Catholic Social Services maintained that the city should grant it an exemption from Philadelphia’s anti-discrimination law and simply allow it to refer lesbian and gay couples to another agency.

But those arguments ignored an important fact: Since the early 1970s, state and local agencies have shown an increasing investment in protecting and supporting L.G.B.T.Q. children in the foster system.

As the journalist Michael Waters recently recounted in The New Yorker, with the rise of gay liberation, social workers in several states began placing L.G.B.T.Q. youth with lesbian and gay foster parents. This intervention was at once radical and pragmatic: While straight foster parents often rejected L.G.B.T.Q. young people, many lesbians and gay men were eager to step in. In some cases, as the legal historian Marie-Amelie George has shown, agencies actively reached out to L.G.B.T.Q. organizations for help.

The Fulton case is ultimately a tragic distraction from the pressing issues facing youth in foster care today, and the case has the potential to exacerbate the trauma that is already widespread in the child welfare system. Foster care abolitionists, for example, point out that Black, Indigenous and, in many areas, Latinx children are disproportionately separated from their families, and call for ending the child welfare system as we know it. . . . placements that are necessary should be integrated with L.G.B.T.Q.-affirming community programs under the presumption that all children and young people could be L.G.B.T.Q. Instead, we are fighting discrimination disguised as religious freedom.

Potential foster parents who agree to be chosen on an exclusionary basis would perpetuate anti-L. G.B. T. Q. stigmas. They would be unfit to provide foster care to L.G.B.T.Q. young people — or to their cisgender/straight peers.

The impact would extend beyond Philadelphia. Other agencies across the United States would also feel free to exclude L.G.B.T.Q. parents. According to Family Equality, 11 states have laws allowing faith-based foster care agencies to exclude L.G.B.T.Q. parents. Family Equality says more states are considering similar discriminatory legislation.

A decision in favor of Catholic Social Services could also undermine laws prohibiting employment and housing discrimination, and efforts by states to ban so-called “reparative” therapies in religiously oriented clinics. Religious rationales for homophobic and transphobic discrimination would be legitimized.

A win for Catholic Social Services would reinforce the problems we continue to face. And that is unquestionably a lose-lose.

Making the case even more disturbing is the reality that the Vatican sits atop countless billions of dollars in wealth.  If any religious institution should not receive taxpayer funds, it is the Catholic Church and its organizations because of (i) their immense wealth and (ii) the horrid track record in allowing abuse.  

Sunday Morning Male Beauty