Saturday, June 26, 2021

Saturday Morning Male Beauty


The Right-Wing Media's Calls for Violence Grow Louder

It's summer time and most Americans are focused on vacation and/or returning to more normalcy in their lives after a year of Covid-19 related restrictions.   Indeed, the husband and I will be doing some beach vacationing with my daughters and the grandchildren this coming week.  Thus, it is easy to fail to focus on the growing menace on the far right  that is being whipped up by the right wing media, including Fox News, a/k/a Faux News. The lies and agitation being promoted increasingly are setting the stage for violence by white supremacists and Christian extremists (the two are more or less interchangeable) who continue to embrace lies and the depiction of non-whites and those who support racial equality as enemies push a white genocide agenda. Doing many residential real estate closings in the current superheated housing market, I daily see buyers and sellers of all races - thanks to the military in particular, Hampton Roads is increasingly racially diverse - all of whom are hard working individuals seeking homes for their families, trading up to a larger home or are young service members looking to purchase their first home.  Many are non-white and it is frightening that the right wing media depicts these individuals as some sort of existential threat to white Americans.  A piece in Salon looks at the hate mongering and extremism that is being fueled.  Here are highlights:

For months now, experts in violent extremism have openly worried that the January 6 insurrection was not the end of the right's Donald Trump-fueled violence, but actually a blueprint for those who are still interested in some old-fashioned authoritarian blood-letting. That Trump himself longed to use — and occasionally did use — violence to silence his political opponents is no secret. It was reconfirmed this week with reports that he reacted to last summer's protests by demanding that federal authorities "crack their skulls" and "just shoot them." His departure from office, however, doesn't seem to have turned the temperature down.

Trump and his allies keep pushing conspiracy theories, like one that claims he will be "reinstated" in August, that work to keep the violent insurrectionist sentiments churning among his base. This poses a heightened threat as the summer heats up and the moment when the Trumpers realize that their beloved orange savior is not actually getting the White House back nears. Unfortunately, right-wing media outlets are handling this situation by adding more fuel to the simmering flame of Republican paranoia.

In just the past week, two prominent conservative TV hosts were caught overtly layering in justifications for lashing out violently against Democrats, progressives, and anyone else viewed as getting in the way of MAGA power. A recent rant from the One America News Network host Pearson Sharp is getting a lot of media attention because the call for violence was so explicit that it's hard even for the most dedicated gaslighter to deny it. In a segment devoted to hyping Trump's Big Lie that Joe Biden stole the election, Sharp declared that . . . . "in the past, America had a very good solution for dealing with such traitors: execution."

The call for red hats to start the executions is barely subtext anymore. The justifications are all there: The lie about a stolen election, the claim of moral authority to murder, and the implication that, because the American government won't do its duty, ordinary Americans must step up.

In particular, the OAN segment was explicitly about the fake "audit" of the Arizona vote that MyPillow salesman Mike Lindell and Trump himself have been using as an anchor for false claims that the "fraud" is about to be exposed and Trump will be reinstalled as president in August. This supposed "audit" has been going on for a couple of months now, and, as the Washington Post reports, an entire infrastructure of right-wing media has been hyping it this entire time. When Trump's grand reinstatement inevitably fails to happen, there are going to be thousands of right-wingers who are furious and drunk on this rhetoric suggesting that violence is the only appropriate response. 

Over on Fox News, Tucker Carlson's Thursday night show is also getting a lot of media attention for his attack on Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley, who testified about the January 6 insurrection this week before the House Armed Services Committee. Milley correctly identified the cause of the Capitol riot as "white rage," which he clearly and correctly sees as rooted in a belief in white supremacy. Of course, right-wing media exploded in predictable outrage, suggesting that the military be defunded for this insult to the honor of racists.

Milley is "not just a pig," Carlson told his audience about the top military general, "he's stupid." . . . . But even more concerning might be something else Carlson said in his Thursday night program, in which he suggested that white people are in imminent danger of being the target of genocide. 

As he often does, Carlson plays this rhetorical trick where he equates simply being white with holding an ideology of white supremacy, and suggests that any criticism of racists is, therefore, an attack on white people for their race. The invocation of Rwanda, of course, is a reference to the Rwandan genocide, when members of the Tutsi minority in that country were hunted down and mass-murdered.

This is, in part, Carlson doing his usual thing, where he takes ideas from literal neo-Nazis, cleans them up and presents them as "common sense conservativism" on his show. In this case, the idea he's laundering is "white genocide," the white nationalist belief that valuing racial diversity is equivalent to the genocide of white people. . . . . Carlson is positioning white violence as mere self-defense. Recasting aggression as self-defense is a classic fascist move, and Carlson doesn't need to be explicit here for his audience to pick up what he's putting down. 

The atttacks on the military, the FBI and any police who are caught defending democracy are even more subtle, but part of the same alarming push towards violence in right-wing media. These are the authorities who are most likely to be involved in shutting down fascist insurrection, after all, especially now that Trump's no longer in the White House.

It's easy to dismiss the whole conspiracy theory as just more of Trump wanting attention and gorging himself on any bit of flatterry. Hopefully, that will be the case, especially as there are so far no signs of something like the "Stop the Steal" rally being organized — yet. 

Still, it's deeply concerning that the rhetoric of justified violence is increasing, and not just in fringe social media circles, but on cable news networks being projected into millions of American homes.

The fire may not spark, but there can be no mistaking the immense amount of fuel that right-wing media is gleefully pouring over the kindling.

Be very afraid and vote a straight Democrat in every election.

Friday, June 25, 2021

Friday Morning Male Beauty


Republicans Want You (Not the Rich) to Pay for Infrastructure

One of the worse things the last Republican governor of Virginia and the then GOP controlled Virginia General Assembly was to authorize so-called "public-private" financing schemes for two tunnels between the cities of Portsmouth and Norfolk as well as to replace a much used bridge.  The bridge before replacement had been free and the tolls on the tunnels had been lower before private interests took over management.  What the phase "public-private" turned out to mean was the public got royally screwed while the wealthy private interests got very rich at public expense.  Worse yet, through for unpaid tolls, because of late fees and "administrative fees" a few dollar toll could become $60.00 in little over 30 days and soon many of the poorest local residents faced thousands of dollars in fees to the truly rapacious private interests and risked having their vehicle registrations not being renewed.  Why do I relate this history?  Because, if Republicans have their way, the entire country may soon face a similar predatory scheme for financing much needed infrastructure improvements.  Rather than increase taxes on the super wealthy and corporations, the average citizen will be screwed over in yet another example of the GOP's reverse Robin Hood agenda.  The GOP must be stopped.  A piece in the New York Times looks at this horrible means of screwing average citizens to protect the very wealthy.  Here are highlights:

Twenty-one senators, led by Rob Portman of Ohio, a Republican, announced a new outline agreement for an infrastructure package last week. Disagreement over tax changes derailed previous talks, but this bipartisan group claimed to have identified a set of proposed financing sources that could pay for new spending “without raising taxes.” Reportedly, the largest among those was $315 billion from alternative financing schemes known as public-private partnerships.

The legislators are jumping through these hoops in the first place because for the past three decades, the Republican Party has organized its agenda around an absolutist principle: no new taxes, ever. But despite the senators’ insistence, these arrangements do not actually avoid extractive charges on residents. They just launder the new fees through private investors.

Rather than the government financing the rebuilding of roads and bridges that get you across town, you pay a private company operating in contract with the government — while policymakers pretend that they have avoided imposing new costs.

Chief among these schemes that Republicans have identified are so-called user fees, like road tolls and a new fee on vehicle miles traveled. The White House rejected such proposals as violating its own tax pledge: a promise not to increase taxes on families earning under $400,000 annually. As President Biden observed, “If everything is paid for by a user fee, the burden falls on working-class folks, who are having trouble.”

[U]nlike progressive taxes, user fees — whether assessed by public entities or by private firms contracted with the state — are not generally varied by ability to pay. They are imposed at a flat rate, on the poorest and wealthiest alike, assessed in proportion to their use of public infrastructure. These extractive revenue models condition access to critical goods and services on families’ available resources. And unlike with consumer goods, people often have no choice but to use these spaces.

In 2008, to avoid raising property taxes, Chicago famously leased its parking meter infrastructure to a group of private investors. Shortly after the asset sale, residents parking downtown were paying more than double the prior rates.

The lesson is clear: Flat-rate user-funded structures privatize social risks while shielding wealth from productive public use. This underlying dynamic does not change when such fees are imposed by unaccountable private investors rather than the state.

As negotiations continue, we can learn from the harmful consequences brought about by the privatization of local public goods — and opt instead for an inclusive public infrastructure that is available, and affordable, to everyone.

Thursday, June 24, 2021

More Thursday Male Beauty


Giuliani's Lies on Behalf of Trump Disgraced His Profession and America

Like I suspect countless attorneys who strive to provide diligent yet ethical legal services to their clients  - often despite client demands to cross ethical limits - I am most pleased that Rudi Giuliana has had his law license suspended by New York State's highest court for making "demonstrably false and misleading statements to courts, lawmakers and the public at large in his capacity as lawyer for former president Donald J. Trump and the Trump campaign."   Sadly, other attorneys who engaged in similar conduct have yet to have their licenses suspended or, more appropriately, permanently disbarred.  Giuliani seemingly knowingly put forth falsehood seemingly only so he could receive payments to the malignant narcissist who once occupied the White House. If Giuliani believed his own lies, then he also needs to be place in a mental institution for much needed care.  Others, including members of Congress who hold law licenses - think Josh Hawley - likewise engaged in knowing lies and need to be similarly stripped of their law licenses.   A column in the Washington Post looks at the harm Giuliani did to the legal profession and the nation at large.  Here are column highlights:

Attorneys are supposed to — they are ethically bound to — zealously represent their clients, however unpopular. As a general matter, we should salute this zealousness, not punish it, for fear of chilling representation of those who need it most.

But advocacy has its limits, and Rudy Giuliani, it is safe to say, is no John Adams. One man defended the defenseless in the greater service of the rule of law; the other asserted the indefensible in the service of overturning the results of an election. And so, on Thursday, New York State Bar authorities took the extraordinary step of ordering Giuliani, once the top federal prosecutor in Manhattan, immediately suspended from the practice of law as he faces the prospect of being permanently disbarred.

“We conclude that there is uncontroverted evidence that [Giuliani] communicated demonstrably false and misleading statements to courts, lawmakers and the public at large in his capacity as lawyer for former president Donald J. Trump and the Trump campaign in connection with Trump’s failed effort at reelection in 2020,” the judges overseeing the disciplinary proceedings wrote in a 33-page ruling. “These false statements were made to improperly bolster respondent’s narrative that due to widespread voter fraud, victory in the 2020 United States presidential election was stolen from his client. We conclude that respondent’s conduct immediately threatens the public interest.”

It ordinarily takes quite a bit — stealing client money, or obstructing justice — to get yourself disbarred, and even more to have your license to practice law suspended pending resolution of the proceedings. As a practical matter, Giuliani doesn’t have a booming legal practice; at this point, any client would be a fool to have him for a lawyer. And he has bigger problems than losing a law license he doesn’t really use, including a criminal investigation into his activities by the office he used to oversee.

Still, this is a welcome and entirely justified development. In the aftermath of the 2020 election, Giuliani wasn’t the only Trump lawyer to make unsupportable claims about voter fraud, but he was the most prominent. Both in and out of court, Giuliani made repeated false statements . . . .

The disciplinary panel found that these statements violated ethics rules that prohibit lawyers from knowingly making false claims to courts or third parties, and from engaging in conduct “involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation” or “that adversely reflects on the lawyer’s fitness as a lawyer.”

As the panel concluded, “this disciplinary proceeding concerns the professional restrictions imposed on respondent as an attorney to not knowingly misrepresent facts and make false statements in connection with his representation of a client.” The First Amendment doesn’t protect that.

Giuliani says his license shouldn’t be suspended while the proceedings continue because he poses no continuing threat — the election litigation is over and “he has and will continue to exercise personal discipline to forbear from discussing these matters in public anymore.” As the panel recognized, this is no more trustworthy than the rest of Giuliani’s false claims — “persistent and pervasive” statements that he kept making even after disciplinary proceedings were underway.

“False statements intended to foment a loss of confidence in our elections and resulting loss of confidence in government generally damage the proper functioning of a free society.” Coming from Giuliani, “acting with the authority of being an attorney, and using his large megaphone, the harm is magnified.”

Giuliani’s lawyers predicted that he “will be reinstated as a valued member of the legal profession that he has served so well in his many capacities for so many years.” Let’s hope not. He hasn’t suffered obloquy enough.

What should be Giuliani’s final chapter as a lawyer was a disservice to his profession. But unlike the case of John Adams, it was a disservice to his country.

I hope Giuliana is but the first of the Trump attorneys to lose their license for promoting deliberate lies. 

Thursday Morning Male Beauty


America Is Its Own Worse Enemy

We are a little more than a week away from the Fourth of July when many Americans will fly American flags and decorate their homes with patriotic bunting and some - Republican politicians especially -  will blather about American exceptionalism.  Truth be told, assuming America ever was truly exceptional - something that requires amnesia to the ugly aspects of the nation's past - America is becoming increasingly tattered and worn.  Republican refusal to invest in the nation's physical infrastructure and more importantly human capital is not helping matters and, on a number of scales, the nation is no longer near the top compared to other developed nations.  The GOP agenda of embracing ignorance, furthering far right Christian opposition to anything or anyone who threatens fairy tale beliefs, and reverse Robin Hood policies will only further erode America's standing.   To be a true patriot, one needs to be willing to face the nation's flaws and strive to make the nation better for all citizens instead of merely repeating politically expedient sound bites.  A column in the New York Times looks at how America is harming itself.  Here are excerpts:

“America is back” became President Biden’s refrain on his European trip this month, and in a narrow sense it is.

We no longer have a White House aide desperately searching for a fire alarm to interrupt a president as he humiliates our country at an international news conference, as happened in 2018. And a Pew Research Center survey found that 75 percent of those polled in a dozen countries expressed “confidence in the U.S. president to do the right thing,” compared with 17 percent a year ago.

Yet in a larger sense, America is not back. In terms of our well-being at home and competitiveness abroad, the blunt truth is that America is lagging. In some respects, we are sliding toward mediocrity.

Greeks have higher high school graduation rates. Chileans live longer. Fifteen-year-olds in Russia, Poland, Latvia and many other countries are better at math than their American counterparts — perhaps a metric for where nations will stand in a generation or two.

As for reading, one-fifth of American 15-year-olds can’t read at the level expected of a 10-year-old. How are those millions of Americans going to compete in a globalized economy? As I see it, the greatest threat to America’s future is less a surging China or a rogue Russia than it is our underperformance at home.

We Americans repeat the mantra that “we’re No. 1” even though the latest Social Progress Index, a measure of health, safety and well-being around the world, ranked the United States No. 28. Even worse, the United States was one of only three countries, out of 163, that went backward in well-being over the last decade.

Another assessment this month, the I.M.D. World Competitiveness Ranking 2021, put the United States No. 10 out of 64 economies. A similar forward-looking study from the World Bank ranks the United States No. 35 out of 174 countries.

So it’s great that we again have a president respected by the world. But we are not “back,” and we must face the reality that our greatest vulnerability is not what other countries do to us but what we have done to ourselves. The United States cannot achieve its potential when so many Americans are falling short of theirs.

“Europeans may envy America’s corporate dynamism but can comfort themselves that they are doing a much better job on a host of social outcomes, from education to health to the environment.

Biden’s proposals for a refundable child credit, for national pre-K, for affordable child care and for greater internet access would help address America’s strategic weaknesses. They would do more to strengthen our country than the $1.2 trillion plan pursued by American officials to modernize our nuclear arsenal. Our greatest threats today are ones we can’t nuke.

America still has enormous strengths. Its military budget is bigger than the military budgets of the next 10 countries put together. American universities are superb, and the dynamism of United States corporations is reflected in the way people worldwide use their iPhones to post on their Facebook pages about Taylor Swift songs.

But they also comment, aghast, about the Capitol insurrection and attempts by Republicans to impede voting. American democracy was never quite as shimmering a model for the world as we liked to think, but it is certainly tarnished now.

Likewise, the “American dream” of upward mobility (which drew my refugee father to these shores in 1952) is increasingly chimerical. “The American dream is evidently more likely to be found on the other side of the Atlantic, indeed most notably in Denmark,” a Stanford study concluded.

“These things hold us back as an economy and as a country,” Jerome Powell, the chair of the Federal Reserve, said Tuesday.

We can’t control whether China builds more aircraft carriers. We can’t deter every Russian hacker.

But to truly bring America back, we should worry less about what others do and more about what we do to ourselves.

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

More Tuesday Male Beauty


Senate Republicans Just Proved That Systemic Racism Exists

This morning's post looked at the reality that systemic racism has existed and continues to exist in America.  Today, all fifty of the U.S. Senate Republicans proved that the system is in fact rigged to keep some citizens in a subordinate while others are maintained in a superior position when they voted to block voting on the  which would bar many of the state level voting restrictions being enacted by GOP controlled legislatures that (despite their at first blush race neutrality) have the real world effect of restriction voting by minorities and the less affluent.  The New York Times reports as follows:

Senate Republicans on Tuesday blocked the most ambitious voting rights legislation to come before Congress in a generation, using the filibuster to deal a blow to a bid by President Biden and Democrats to counter a wave of state-level ballot restrictions and fueling a political battle that promises to shape the 2022 elections.

Mitch "Moscow Mitch" McConnell and those pictured with him in the image above might just as well be wearing full KKK robes and regalia since they know full well  - despite their disingenuous blather - what the state level laws seek to do and how it would weaken the GOP and its shrinking racist base.  Worse yet, these modern day advocates of Jim Crow laws are opposing non-white White House nominees. A column in the Washington Post further elaborates on what the Senate Republicans' actions spotlights - that the GOP wants an America where white, heterosexual right wing "Christians" rule.  Here are excerpts:

It was a good day for the insurrectionists.

Senate Republicans voted in lockstep on Tuesday to block the landmark voting rights bill, in effect embracing the disenfranchisement of non-White voters under the “big lie” justification that widespread voter fraud denied Donald Trump reelection.

Even as they did so, Senate Republicans also embraced the latest Fox-News-generated conspiracy theory: that a shadowy network of America haters — suspiciously similar to antifa, BLM and the deep state — had taken over the Biden administration with a nefarious ideology known as critical race theory, or “critical theory.”

“Critical theory is, in fact, very real,” Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), the man who pumped his fist in solidarity with the people who attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6, declared on the Senate floor on Tuesday. “It is very influential. And it appears to have become the animating ideology of this administration.”

In short, Hawley explained, the Biden administration hates America. “President Biden is nominating for federal office individuals who do not share a view of America as a good and decent place,” Hawley announced. His nominees instead “believe that this is a country founded in racism and shot through with corruption.”

Hawley offered zero evidence for his claims, beyond Biden reinstating racial sensitivity training and his nomination of an Indian American woman, Kiran Ahuja, to run the Office of Personnel Management. Hawley alleged that critical race theory “appears to be her fundamental ideology.” This wild claim is based on a Boston University professor’s lecture on “antiracism” at the charity she ran, and her linking to an article of his claiming Trump’s election was an example of white supremacy.

But Republicans rallied behind Hawley’s demagoguery anyway. They voted unanimously Tuesday against her confirmation, requiring Vice President Harris to break the Senate’s tie. Ahuja was the latest of several non-White Biden nominees to run into Republican opposition.

Critical race theory (at its core, the belief that racism in America is systemic) had been around for decades in academic circles without attracting much attention — until Fox News took it up last summer.

The irony, of course, is that Republicans are now proving that systemic racism exists — and they, along with Fox News, are the primary offenders. With their united stand against the voting-rights bill and their united votes against Ahuja on the bogus justification of critical race theory, they’re the ones reducing Americans “to their racial identity alone,” as Hawley put it. The Proud Boys who attacked the Capitol must be filled with pride anew.

The Republican leadership’s opposition to the voting-rights bill was so rote that they didn’t bother dividing up their talking points.

Now that the Republican filibuster has blocked the voting-rights bill, Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) will try to sell Republicans on a scaled-back version that addresses key GOP complaints. But McConnell made clear Tuesday that he isn’t interested in any voting-rights legislation. Asked why he wouldn’t even allow a debate on the bill, he told reporters: “This is not a federal issue.”

Republicans will instead focus on the real federal issue: accusing the Biden administration of opposing the flag, family businesses, merit, grace, Christianity, your dreams, your family and America.

I am continual ashamed that I was ever a Republican.

Tuesday Morning Male Beauty


Admitting That Systemic Racism is Real

Having grown up through high school in Central New York, I suffered cultural shock when I came to Virginia to attend the University of Virginia.  The most shocking aspect was the open racism - my class started at the University a mere two years after the Supreme Court ruling in Loving v. Virginia.  My small public school system had include some blacks and a number of members of the Onondaga Indian tribe not due to desegregation or busing but merely as a result where people lived within the district boundaries.  So yes, Virginia was a shock to me.  Virginia has changed radically over the intervening years and is now perhaps the most progressive state in the Old South (to remain so, Democrats must win across the board in the November elections).  But the past has a lingering impact that doesn't miraculously disappear through court rulings and new laws on their face mandating equality.  This is a reality is recognized in a column in the Washington Post by a conservative former Republican driven like so may by disgust of what the GOP has become.  He lays out the case of why systemic racism exists even if most of us have no direct guilt for its existence.  He argues we all, however, have a responsibility to first recognize its existence and to then work to end it.  Here are highlights: 

The phrase “systemic racism,” like “climate change” and “gun control,” has been sucked into the vortex of the culture war. The emotional reaction to these words seems to preclude reasoned debate on their meaning.

But a divisive concept can be clarifying. I know it has been for me: I don’t think it’s possible to be a conservative without believing that racism is, in part, structural.

Most on the American right have dug into a very different position. They tend to view racism as an individual act of immorality. And they regard the progressive imputation of racism to be an attack on their character. In a free society, they reason, the responsibility for success and failure is largely personal. They’re proud of the productive life choices they’ve made and refuse to feel guilty for self-destructive life choices made by others.

It’s an argument that sounds convincing — until it’s tested against the experience of our own lives.

I grew up in a middle-class neighborhood of a middle-class suburb in a Midwestern city. I went to a middle-class high school, with middle-class friends, eating middle-class fried bologna sandwiches. And for most of my upbringing, this seemed not only normal but normative. I assumed this was a typical American childhood.

Only later did I begin to see that my normality was actually a social construction. By the time I was growing up in the 1970s, St. Louis no longer had legal segregation. But my suburb, my neighborhood and my private high school were all outcomes of White flight. The systems of policing, zoning and education I grew up with had been created to ensure one result: to keep certain communities safe, orderly and pale.

I had little hint of this as a child. It seemed natural that I hardly ever met a person of color in a racially diverse city or seldom met a poor person in a place with some of the worst poverty in the country. All I knew was that I shouldn’t get lost in certain neighborhoods or invite Black people to the private pool where we were members. (My brother did once, and there was suddenly a problem with processing our membership card.)

But none of this was neutral or normal. Systems had been carefully created to ensure I went to an all-White church, in an all-White neighborhood, while attending an all-White Christian school and shopping in all-White stores. I now realize I grew up in one of the most segregated cities in the United States.

Was this my fault? Not in the strictest sense. I didn’t create these systems. But I wish I had realized earlier that these systems had created me.

This is what I mean by systemic racism. If, on my 13th birthday, all the country’s laws had been suddenly, perfectly and equally enforced, my community would still have had a massive hangover of history. The structures and attitudes shaped during decades and centuries of oppression would still have existed. Legal equality in theory does not mean a society is justly constituted.

For me, part of being a conservative means taking history seriously. We do not, as Tom Paine foolishly claimed, “have it in our power to begin the world over again.” We live in an imperfect world we did not create and have duties that flow from our story.

There is an important moral distinction between “guilt” and “responsibility.” It is not useful, and perhaps not fair, to say that most White people are guilty of creating social systems shaped by white supremacy. But they do have a responsibility as citizens, and as moral creatures, to seek a society where equal opportunity is a reality for all.

[A]s a conservative, I believe that equal opportunity, rather than mandated economic equality, is the proper goal of a free society. But what if we are (to employ a football analogy) not 30 yards away from the goal of equal opportunity in the United States, but 70 yards? What if equal opportunity is a cruel joke to a significant portion of the country? Shouldn’t that create an outrage and urgency that we rarely see, and even more rarely feel?

Though our nation is beset with systemic racism, we also have the advantage of what a friend calls “systemic anti-racism.” We have documents — the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, the 14th Amendment — that call us to our better selves. We are a country that has exploited and oppressed Black Americans. But we are also the country that has risen up in mass movements, made up of Blacks and Whites, to confront those evils. The response to systemic racism is the determined, systematic application of our highest ideals.

Monday, June 21, 2021

Monday Morning Male Beauty


Senate Republicans Remain Enemies of LGBT Americans

For decades the Republican Party has used the three "G's" - god, guns and gays - to motivate the gullible and bigoted among the public and, even more importantly, to distract them from paying attention to the fact that GOP policies have worked against the economic interests of working Americans.   The result is that 28 states continue to lack non-discrimination protections in housing, health care access and public accommodation. On the surface, the Supreme Court ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County granted employment non-discriminations protections to LGBT Americans by ruling that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination “because of sex,” includes LGBT employees.  Other forms of discrimination remain legal in states without state law protections.  To remedy this situation, The Equality Act was introduced in Congress and passed the House of Representatives.  Now, Senate Republicans appear united in killing the Act to appease their Christofascists in their base.  Meanwhile, Republican controlled legislatures are passing anti-LGBT laws in a number of states.  A piece in the Washington Post looks at the deadlock in the U.S. Senate.  Here are highlights:

The long march toward equal rights for gay, lesbian and transgender Americans — whose advocates have eyed major advances with complete Democratic control in Washington — has run into a wall of opposition in the Senate.

Foundering alongside other liberal priorities such as voting rights, gun control and police reform, legislation that would write protections for LGBTQ Americans into the nation’s foundational civil rights law has stalled because of sharpening Republican rhetoric, one key Democrat’s insistence on bipartisanship and the Senate’s 60-vote supermajority rule.

While Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) hinted at potential action this month — the annual LGBTQ Pride Month — Senate aides and advocates say there are no immediate plans to vote on the Equality Act, which would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the protected classes of the 1964 Civil Rights Act alongside race, color, religion and national origin.

The House passed the legislation in February, 224 to 206, with only three Republicans joining all 221 Democrats in support. The Senate companion bill is sponsored by 49 Democrats and no Republicans. Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) is the Democratic holdout, and the lone Republican who had sponsored a previous version of the bill, Sen. Susan Collins (Maine), is not yet doing so in this Congress.

The partisanship around the issue on Capitol Hill stands in contrast to the wide-ranging support for LGBTQ rights among the public at large, in corporate America, and even in the federal judiciary, which has delivered a string of rulings expanding those rights — including a landmark Supreme Court opinion last year written by conservative Justice Neil M. Gorsuch that effectively banned employment discrimination on the basis of sexual identity.

[S]ignificant obstacles to progress on the Equality Act remain, including polarized views on how to protect the rights of religious institutions that condemn homosexuality and Republicans’ increasing reliance on transgender rights as a wedge issue.

Schumer last month said the bill was “one of the things we’re considering” for a vote during Pride Month but added, “it’s a very busy June.” And while individual conversations are taking place, according to Baldwin and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), the lead Senate author, there appears to be no organized negotiation underway as there has been on other hot-button issues.

The backdrop is a new Republican push to target LGBTQ rights. Advocates count at least 17 state laws passed this year targeting the community, most of them specifically aimed at transgender Americans. When the House debated the Equality Act earlier this year, numerous Republicans came to the floor to warn of dire consequences if the bill were enacted.

Rep. Andrew S. Clyde (R-Ga.) said passing the bill would be “opening the door for predatory men to prey on [women] in the most vulnerable of places — in shelters, changing rooms and showers.”

The corps of advocates who see the Equality Act as the capstone of a 50-year struggle for LGBTQ civil rights say they remain optimistic that progress can be made on a lawmaker-by-lawmaker basis. They say that at least 10 Republicans will ultimately be open to passing the law, vaulting a potential filibuster, and that Manchin will support the bill once a critical mass of Republicans get on board.

“We’ve had the First Amendment on the books for decades. We’ve had a clear separation between church and state for decades. The Equality Act does not change the fundamental principles that support religious freedom,” he said. “We heard some of the same arguments, if you will, in the 1960s when the Civil Rights Act was amended — that this would really radically affect how religious institutions function. That didn’t happen.”

The push has been complicated by the federal courts, which have taken up major cases dealing with LGBTQ rights in recent years. Some Republicans have cited last year’s surprise decision banning employment discrimination in declaring that they no longer see a need for broader civil rights legislation. And on Thursday, a unanimous Supreme Court rejected a Philadelphia agency’s decision to sideline organizations that refused to place foster children with same-sex couples on religious grounds — a narrow decision that did not establish a broad new religious freedom doctrine.

But the advocates argue that the courts have left major gaps in LGBTQ rights — such as excluding discrimination in housing, public accommodations and jury service — while also pointing out that existing statutes and court decisions do plenty to preserve religious freedom.

In explaining his opposition to the bill in 2019, Manchin expressed general support for ­LGBTQ rights but cited the discomfort of school officials in his home state with the bill’s gender implications, saying he was “not convinced that the Equality Act as written provides sufficient guidance to the local officials who will be responsible for implementing it.” He promised to “build broad bipartisan support and find a viable path forward for these critical protections.”

The bill’s proponents have been reticent to discuss any changes that would address the GOP objections about transgender sports and other issues they have used as political cudgels. Instead, they have focused on convincing lawmakers that their fears are simply misplaced.

Don't hold your breath hoping the GOP will relent.  Decades of history shows the GOP is the enemy of LGBT Americans.

Sunday, June 20, 2021

Sunday Morning Male Beauty


"Italygate" and the Dumbing Down of the Republican Mind

Over two decades ago when I was still and active Republican with a seat on the City Committee of the Republican Party of Virginia Beach, crackpots and Christofascists were viewed with derision and generally blocked from being elected to the Committee.  Sadly, that started to change and when a conservative coup of sorts ousted the moderate City Committee chairwoman, I knew it was time to exit the Committee and the GOP.  A similar phenomenon occurred across the country and the party that once honored knowledge, required people to have legitimate credentials, respected science and reason began its descent into insanity.   Trump was merely the end piece of what and started over a decade earlier.   Now, the bigger lunatic and liar one is, the better one's chances for rising within the GOP, a party that now clings to every insane conspiracy theory no matter how far fetched.  A perfect example is the "Italygate" conspiracy theory - namely, that an Italian defense contractor, in coordination with senior CIA officials, used military satellites to switch votes from Trump to Joe Biden and swing the result of the election - put out by a grifter and fraud and gobbled up by many in the GOP base.  Frighteningly, these people will believe anything no matter how utterly ridiculous.  A piece in the Washington Post looks at the fraud behind the conspiracy theory.  Here are excepts:

Late last December, as President Donald Trump pressed senior officials to find proof of election fraud, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows emailed acting attorney general Jeffrey Rosen a letter detailing an outlandish theory of how an Italian defense contractor had conspired with U.S. intelligence to rig the 2020 presidential contest.

The letter, which was among records released by Congress this past week, was printed under the letterhead of USAerospace Partners, a little-known Virginia aviation company. In early January, a second Virginia firm, the Institute for Good Governance, and a partner organization released a statement from an Italian attorney who claimed that a hacker had admitted involvement in the supposed conspiracy.

According to the conspiracy theory known as “Italygate,” people working for the Italian defense contractor, in coordination with senior CIA officials, used military satellites to switch votes from Trump to Joe Biden and swing the result of the election.

[B]oth Virginia organizations are led by Michele Roosevelt Edwards, according to state corporate filings reviewed by The Washington Post. . . . Edwards was formerly known as Michele Ballarin but changed her name last year, court records show. In 2013, The Post’s magazine explored how Edwards, once a struggling single mom, had reinvented herself as a business executive and then as a well-connected horse-country socialite. . . .

The Institute for Good Governance’s registered headquarters since late last year has been the historical North Wales Farm, a 22-bedroom mansion in Warrenton, Va., state records show. The property is listed for sale at just under $30 million.

On the day after the 2020 election, Edwards sat for an interview at North Wales with a television crew from Iceland,  . . . . . Edwards told the crew that the estate was her property, according to their footage.

But North Wales was then — and is now — owned by a company formed by David B. Ford, a retired financier who died in September. Ford’s widow said in an interview that she did not know Edwards. The Post showed her the footage of Edwards inside the property.

“She’s in my house,” the widow said. “How is she in my house?”

The North Wales mansion was for sale at the time, and Edwards was a licensed Realtor in the area, according to the firm’s website. Hers was not the firm Ford’s widow had hired to sell the property.

Edwards declined to comment. “I am not giving media interviews at this time,” she said in a text message.

The discovery of the role Edwards’s two firms had in spreading the Italygate conspiracy theory, as well as the roles others played, sheds new light on its origins and on how the claims made their way from feverish online speculation to some of the most powerful figures in the government. As Trump refused to concede defeat, his die-hard supporters pushed the conspiracy theory on social media and other channels as part of an effort to discredit Biden’s presidency that continues today.

Prosecutors in Rome told The Post that they are now investigating whether false claims were made against the Italian defense contractor. The prosecutor’s office said it was examining “various subjects, both Italian and non-Italian.” A conservative Italian news site owned by a politician who has written about Italygate reported this month that the politician and Edwards are among those under investigation.

In a story published Saturday, Talking Points Memo reported that, in a brief interview, Edwards denied any knowledge of the letter.

Several current and former Trump advisers said they were shocked that Meadows would pass along such a fantastical conspiracy theory, but one former senior administration official said Meadows “bought into some of the more bizarre claims and would push them to the president as well.” The official spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.

It was not clear from the emails released by Congress how Meadows obtained the USAerospace letter. A spokesman for Meadows declined to comment.

Chatter about the conspiracy theory exploded among Trump’s base. Among other influential figures, the former Trump advisers Michael Flynn and George Papadopoulos — both of whom Trump pardoned for lying to the FBI during the inquiry into Russia’s 2016 election interference — posted about the conspiracy theory on Twitter. “Italy did it,” Flynn wrote.

“Pure insanity,” Justice Department official Richard Donoghue wrote to his boss, Rosen, after Meadows sent his emails containing the claims, the records released by Congress show.

Even Capezzone, the Italian journalist whose Dec. 1 article set off speculation about the conspiracy theory, said he has since concluded that it was false. In an email to The Post, Capezzone said Italygate was “fake news, a conspiracy theory, [a] poisoned chalice.”

Pure insanity, but much of the GOP base believes such batshit craziness. It's as if they have all had lobotomies.