Saturday, August 28, 2021

More Saturday Male Beauty


Biden's Republican Critics Have no Viable Plan for Afghanistan


Years ago the Republican Party liked to advertise itself as "a party of ideas" and the likes of William F. Buckley, Jr., and others had policy proposals and agenda suggestions to address issues and problems.  That era is long gone and now, all the Republicans do is push for more tax cuts for the very wealthy - that's Glenn Youngkin's plan for Virginia - and criticize and oppose Democrat policies and programs.  Remeber the GOP alternative to Obamacare?  There never was one and the GOP simply sought to abolish Obamacare with no viable replacement proposal.   Remeber too Trump's infrastructure plan?  Just as in healthcare there never was a plan.  Now, with America's exit from the fool's errand in Afghanistan under way weare yet again see braying Republican critics denouncing Biden yet NONE of them have a viable proposal as to how to proceed other than to reignite the war with the Taliban and throw away more American lives not to mention the lives of countless civilian Afghanis (not that Rebulcans care about the deaths of those who are non-white).  A piece The Week looks at the emptiness of the GOP criticism.   Here are excerpts:

There was a tragic suicide bombing at the Kabul airport on Thursday. At time of writing 169 people were confirmed killed, including 13 American soldiers.

This caused an instant frenzy of denunciation on cable news and from Republican neoconservatives. Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) demanded that Biden resign immediately, as did Meghan McCain. Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) demanded Biden reverse course. "For every American who is killed, a city in Afghanistan should be wiped off the face of the Earth," tweeted conservative pundit Todd Starnes. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Rep. Mike Waltz (R-Fl.) released a joint statement demanding Biden recognize the former Afghan vice president and intelligence chief as the legitimate government of the country.

Yet these blood-crazed critics have no arguments or even suggestions that do not involve getting more American soldiers killed, except genocidal slaughter of Afghan civilians. President Biden is right to stay the course.

It is not yet completely clear who committed the attack, but initial reports finger a local ISIS offshoot, with the likely objective of re-starting the conflict between the Taliban and the U.S. In an interesting coincidence, that's apparently the exact same objective of Graham, Starnes, and the rest of the hardliners screaming at Biden. (By the way, it is worth pointing out that the Taliban is bitterly opposed to ISIS, and indeed in the past has received temporary support in their fight with the group from none other than the U.S. military.)

To re-state what is still completely undeniable, we just finished 20 years of occupation that categorically failed to create a viable Afghan government. That government is now gone. There is an agreement with the Taliban to get out at the end of the month, signed by President Trump and adhered to by Biden.

To renege on that agreement — by sending in more troops, or re-taking the Bagram air base, as House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy suggested — would not only require putting more forces in to re-start the war, it would expose the troops there now protecting the evacuation to immediate attack on all sides, and possibly even cut them off from reinforcement, given how easy it is to prevent flights into the Kabul airport. Indeed, as members of the U.S. government, Graham and Walz's demand exposes American soldiers to a nontrivial risk that the Taliban will take it as a statement of policy and open fire. And then what?

Not a single one of these cretins has even bothered to outline a medium-term plan.

The simple fact is the Kabul evacuation can't help but be a dangerous business, and some attack or another was always a risk. Indeed, this is the first sacrifice of American soldiers in years that can be said to have actually accomplished anything worthwhile in Afghanistan. Over 2,400 of them died over the last 20 years in a war any fool could see was impossible to win by 2003 at the latest. Their lives were squandered — along with those of perhaps a quarter-million civilians — by three presidents who were too stupid or cowardly to look reality in the face, cut our losses, and get out of there.

These troops, by contrast, gave their lives protecting an evacuation that — while flawed in many ways — actually has done a great deal of good. Over 100,000 people have indeed been airlifted out at time of writing, and mass evacuations are still ongoing. Given the chaos of the initial collapse of Kabul, and the tense relationship with the Taliban, it's a pretty remarkable accomplishment.

These armchair generals don't care about any of that. They don't care about working out a viable plan to do anything in particular, or defending any conception of American interests, or respecting the sacrifice of Our Troops. They want to leverage the shock, horror, and pain of American soldiers getting killed to whip up a good old war frenzy, just like they did after 9/11, and get hundreds or thousands more troops injured and killed in the process of yet another madcap imperialist crusade. The American military is a plaything for these people in their crusade to seize domestic power by driving the citizenry into a frothing desire for vengeance.

No doubt the Kabul evacuation could have been planned an executed better. But that is water under the bridge. President Biden continuing to hold stubbornly to what is very obviously the only realistic course of action, despite a mindless frenzy of condemnation from the media and the GOP, and little support from his own party, is the strongest act of political courage I have seen from a president in my life.

Another good piece in The Week is here

Saturday Morning Male Beauty


It's Time to Impose a High Financial Cost on Vaccine Refusers


A friend who was fully vaccinated recently came down with Covid-19.  My friend who due to work is often in what one might call "Trump country" and likely got infected by one of the vaccine refusers in that setting despite taking proper precautions. Hopefully, my fiend's illness will not be severe thanks to being vaccinated, but nonetheless my friend and their entire family will suffer disruptions, both financial and social, because someone through stupidity , some wrong-headed selfishness, or distorted sense of "freedom" chose to be irresponsible.  But it's not just people like my friend who are suffering the consequences of the irresponsibility and selfishness of vaccine refusers.  It is estimated that the cost of treating the unvaccinated who have fallen ill with Covid for just June and July is $2.3 billion, much of which either will have to be absorbed by not for profit hospitals who will be forced to raise costs for the rest of us and/or insurance companies that will increase premiums for all of us.  All because of the selfishness of a minority of citizens who care nothing about others.  Personally, I'd like to see the unvaccinated treated like lepers of old and barred from public spaces and private businesses (even better, medical personnel should refuse to treat them). Another approach as laid out in a piece at CNN is to make the unvaccinated pay a financial cost for their irresponsible behavior.  Here are article highlighs: 

It's time to stop forcing the vaccinated majority of Americans to accommodate those who refuse to take this simple step -- especially now that at least one Covid-19 vaccine has been fully approved.

The surge in infections caused by the coronavirus' highly contagious Delta variant has made it clear that the unvaccinated pose a deadly risk to others and themselves. Vaccinated workers, students, airline passengers and others who go out in public should not have to bear the risks and huge financial costs that the unvaccinated are imposing on society.

Think of what we do with smokers. When it became clear that secondhand smoke threatened the health and very lives of blameless nonsmokers, governments and those in charge got tough on smoking in public. They made it much harder, if not impossible, for thoughtless smokers to light up in restaurants, on sidewalks, on public transportation and in other places where nonsmokers have to breathe their toxic fumes. 

Using the same solid reasoning, many employers, colleges, theaters, sports stadiums and other venues are beginning to insist that their workers, students, and patrons be vaccinated -- a movement hopefully to be accelerated by the full approval of the Pfizer vaccine this week by the Food and Drug Administration.

The refusal of many Americans to be vaccinated has imposed financial costs on the rest of us. For example, in an analysis last week, the Kaiser Family Foundation estimated that the hospitalization cost of treating preventable Covid-19 in unvaccinated patients during June and July alone was $2.3 billion -- with the costs "borne not only by patients but also by society more broadly."

And that number is dwarfed by the incalculable additional costs of lockdowns, occupancy restrictions in restaurants and elsewhere, disruption of schooling now and to come, jobs lost to layoffs and Americans struggling to pay rent and mortgages or losing their homes. 

We need to make sure that those financial costs at least are borne as much as possible by those who are responsible for them, and not by the majority who got their shots. 

People may claim that they have a right to refuse vaccination. But that does not give them the right to put the lives of others at risk, nor to force the majority to pay for their bad decision. 

Years ago I helped persuade our nation's insurance commissioners to agree that when people engaged in behaviors that substantially increased their health risk and related medical costs, like smoking, they should pay more for health insurance.

Here is what those who have been vaccinated, and are being victimized, should be demanding:

1. Vaccine refusers should pay more for life and health insurance, just as smokers have long done. For example, Delta Air Lines announced this week that beginning in November, it will charge its unvaccinated employees up to $200 a month more for health insurance, and also limit the number of sick days unvaccinated employees may take if they contract Covid-19.

2. Where unvaccinated workers, students or others are required to be tested frequently, they and no one else should bear the cost of testing.

3. If the unvaccinated want to get hotel rooms or board cruise ships or fly on airplanes, they should have to pay more to cover the additional costs of thoroughly cleaning and sanitizing the places they may infect. They should also be charged more because of the added burdens associated with requiring all airlines, bus and train passengers to be masked. 

Covid-19 is now an "epidemic of the unvaccinated." But we the vaccinated are still being unnecessarily exposed to the risks -- however small -- of illness, hospitalization, "long covid," and death. 

We the vaccinated have to wear masks in many places like offices and airplanes where masks would probably not be required if most Americans had their shots. 

And the vaccinated are unfortunately also being forced to bear most of the financial costs so that some can remain refusers. 

Let's stop coddling the minority, and hold the unvaccinated responsible for the consequences of their own deadly decisions.

A piece here makes the case that vaccine refusers should be last in line for medical treatment. 

Friday, August 27, 2021

More Friday Male Beauty


Two Blows America Is Dealing to the Taliban

The majority of Republicans - most conveniently forgetting the roles of Geaorge W. Bush and Donald Trump, a/k/a Der Trumpenfuhrer in creating the 20year Afghanistan nightmare - are railing at Joe Biden and Democrats over the ending of a disaster that was never going to end well.  Meanwile the lazy shrills of the news media carry water for the Republicans as they seek to increase page views over a providing truthful analysis of what has transpired and what the future may portend.  Worse yet, they ignore the much larger cost remaining in Afghanistan would have saddled on America, both in terms of lost lives of sevice members and funds better used to rebuild America rather than squandered in a country that has never been a unified nation but rather a group of quarreling, murderous tribal groups and religious factions. Thankfully, a few voices recognize whatPresident Biden seemingly understands: leaving Afghanistan in the long term will deal blows against the Taliban and other Islamic extremists within Afghanistan over the longer term.   A piece in The Atlantic looks at these blows being dealt against Islamic extremism. Here are highlights:

Imagine how the scene at the Kabul airport looked to the suicide bomber in the last seconds before he committed his act of murder yesterday: thousands of men, women, and children queuing and jostling in desperate escape from the coming Taliban regime. These were not randomly selected men, women, and children either. These were people with technical skills: medicine, computers, electrical engineering. These were people who spoke foreign languages. These were people who could navigate the modern world and its complex demands. These were people who could do work that could fetch dollars and euros and yen and rupees from the world outside Afghanistan.

The people at the Kabul airport wanted no part of the Taliban’s future. They were risking their lives to flee that future. In the end, that flight cost them their lives, as well as those of U.S. Marines guarding and guiding them on their way out to new and freer lives.

This latest terrorist atrocity casts further gloom upon America’s already grim exit from its longest war. It will further embitter the already polarized American recriminations over that war’s end. It may also portend the next phase of violence inside Afghanistan, as different factions of Islamic militancy turn against one another.

But it also illuminates some other truths less likely to get American attention: The airlift out of Kabul feels humiliating to Americans. Yet at the same time, the airlift is dealing two powerful parting blows against the seemingly victorious Taliban.

Offering refuge in the West to tens of thousands of Afghan allies is a dramatic humanitarian act. It’s a display of power, too—not only the organizational and economic power involved in moving so many people so fast and so far, but also the cultural and social power of the superior attractiveness of the modern world that so appalls the Taliban. Afghanistan needed the people now leaving. The systems that the Western alliance left behind in Afghanistan—computer networks, roads and railways, even the helicopters and munitions the Taliban has inherited from the Afghan armed forces—will rapidly break down without the people whom the Western alliance is removing.

The second blow may hurt the Taliban even more: the propaganda blow. When the Taliban first took power in Afghanistan, in the 1990s, Islamic militancy looked like a wave of the future. Islamic militants could reasonably believe that their war against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan had wrecked one of the world’s two superpowers. Hezbollah terrorism had driven the United States out of Lebanon in 1983. New communication technologies were carrying radical preachings to Muslims all around the world, and many seemed to be absorbing and adopting those preachings. Al-Qaeda already existed, and would soon launch an even bloodier jihad against the United States.

Thirty years later, things look rather different. Perhaps in repulsion from the atrocities of ISIS, perhaps in reaction against local Islamists, people in the Arab world are becoming measurably less religious. The concept that Islamic peoples could form some kind of unified global political community looks ever more hollow as China represses its Muslim minority with the acquiescence of the leaders of Pakistan, Turkey, and even the ISIS terror group. The global center of Islamic militancy has shifted from the Middle East to West Africa—powered in great part by the lengthening gaps of African Muslims behind their Christian neighbors in education and wealth—just as the Taliban’s sponsors in Pakistan fall progressively further behind the Indian state they regard as a civilizational enemy. Millions of young Muslims in the Middle East and North Africa and beyond yearn to emigrate to Europe or North America or other liberal democracies.

Almost two decades ago, President George W. Bush prophesied that someday the ideologies of Islamic terror would join Nazism and communism in “the unmarked grave of discarded lies.” That prophecy has not yet fully come to pass. But the people trying to board the planes in Kabul have rejected the lie, and the urgency in their faces tells their story. That was the story a suicide bomber tried to silence. The story reverberates more powerfully than ever in the bloody aftermath of this latest crime committed in the name of faith.

Another good piece on the brain drai that will afflict Afghanistan under the Taliban is here.

Friday Morning Male Beauty


Glenn Youngkin Threatens Virginia's Fight Against Coid

Having by his own admission - in statements at campaign events but never in his television ads - Glenn Youngkin is courting the extremist Trump base of the Republican Party in Virginia and, if elected, would embrace policies that would endanger the majority of Virginians while pandering to his base's ignorance and idiocy.  A case in point is covid vaccination requirements which will protect more Virginians and prevent Virginia from sliding into a covid nightmare like those in Florida and Texas.  Youngkin puts the demands of the few who seemingly believe they have the right to endanger others out of beliefs in conspiracy theories or some bizarre sense of individual "freedom" over the rights and safety of everyone else in the Commonwealth. He also puts tax cuts for the very wealthy over the Commonwealth's infrastructure and public education despite disingnuous television spots that seek to dupe voters into believing otherwise. A piece in the Washington Post looks at Youngkin's dangerous position on vaccination mandates.  Here are excepts:

Virginia is not among the states worst-hit by the pandemic’s delta variant-fueled resurgence, but it’s bad enough. The commonwealth’s average daily new covid-19 case count, about 2,200 and rising fast, is higher than it’s been since February; hospitalizations, as well as the number of patients so sick they are admitted to intensive care units, are roughly six times higher than they were at the start of July.

But the spikes in infections and serious illness aren’t what seem to be bothering Glenn Youngkin, Virginia’s Republican candidate for governor. Rather, he says he’s “frustrated” that many of the state’s colleges and universities are requiring that students be vaccinated before returning to campus. He’s perfected the art of vaccine doublespeak, at once urging “everyone to get the vaccine” and, practically in the same breath, encouraging students to fill out an exemption form if they prefer to dodge it “for any reason.”

By contrast, Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic candidate who is running to reclaim his old job, has unambiguously favored vaccines and, for that matter, masks. “You’ve got to make life more difficult for the unvaccinated,” he told us. He supports Gov. Ralph Northam’s (D) requirement that the state’s roughly 122,000 employees get vaccinated or, if they refuse, submit to weekly testing. And when the FDA on Monday granted full approval for the Pfizer shot, Mr. McAuliffe called on all employers in the state to mandate the vaccine. He favors the same for state workers — with no testing opt-out, except for genuine health or religious reasons.

Mr. McAuliffe’s position conforms to the advice of public health experts; Mr. Youngkin’s offers a justification to avoid it. On the subject of those who would refuse the vaccine, on any grounds, Mr. Youngkin said in June, “We should allow them to express their own liberty in doing that.”

The problem with Mr. Youngkin’s vaccine peregrinations is that the “liberty” to which he refers is often justified by false rumors, disinformation and lies, much of it rampant on the Internet. A third of Virginia adults have not been fully vaccinated — some owing to inertia or procrastination, but many others on the basis of false information. Mr. Youngkin’s mealy-mouthed pronouncements lend those citizens convenient cover.

Both candidates are fully vaccinated. They surely know that the vaccines are safe, effective and critical to the state’s, and the nation’s, economic recovery. Mr. McAuliffe has said that, clearly. That’s leadership. Mr. Youngkin’s rhetoric is the opposite. Mr. Youngkin’s stance suggests that if he wins in November and exercises his bully pulpit powers on the subject, Virginians’ uptake of the vaccine might eventually drop in the national rankings — with the predictable fallout in avoidable illness, misery and death.

Vote a straight Democrat ticket in November if you value the safety of your friends and families and want Virgininia to return to full normalcy sooner as opposed to much later.

Thursday, August 26, 2021

More Thursday Male Beauty


Sadly Much of America's Media Aids America's Enemies

I apologize in advance for "venting" but witnessing many in the media aiding America's enemies and and ignoring 20 years of history is making me angry.

Today's suicide bombings by ISIS affiliates in Kabul which claimed the lives of 13 U.S. military personnel, wounded others and killed many, many more Afghais seeking to flee the country underscores, in my view, two things: (i) Joe Biden rightly decided that America needs to exit the hell hole that is Afghanistan and end its fool's errand in that nation which is but the latest chapter in that region's title "graveyard of empires," and (ii) fundamentalist religion, be it far right Christian or extreme Islam is one of the biggest blights on humanity.  Sadly, rather than focus on these two realities, much of the American news media continues to post stories that seek to sensationalize the plight of those impacted by America's long over due withdrawal from a failed war that never should have been begun as anything other than surgical strikes to take out Osama bin Laden and his nest of terrotists. Sensational stories can be found across the Internet including this tear jerking, irresponsible one here in the Washington Post which fails to grasp that the only way to avoid what we are witnessing now in Kabul would have been through a permanent U.S. occupation of Afghanistan with once again high troop levels and corresponding high U.S. casualtires - something the vast majority of Americans do not support. 

None of the foregoing views discount the tragedies being suffered and that will be suffered by countless Afghanis under the Taliban - or worse yet ISIS affiliates - but at some point the residents of Afghanistan need to be responsible for asserting the will of the majority against the religious extremists who are in the minority.  American tried to train Afghan armed forces and spent trillions of dollars to position the now defunct governemnt of Afghanistan to counter the Taliban.  What we have seen is that corruption and greed siphoned off huge amounts of U.S. dollars and when the time came to fight, the Afghan military laid down its arms, usually without firing a shot. If a people are unwilling to fight for themselves and their future and to counter extremism, why should more American lives and treasure be flushed down the toilet? 

The events in Kabul also make clear to me that here at home, far right religious extremists - the Christofascists or "Christian Taliban" - need to be confronted and defeated by the majority and not coddled and pandered to as was the policy of the Trump/Pence regime and as is the current policy of the Republican Party.  Thanks to many of these "religious conservatives" who have refused to be vaccinated, America remains in the grip of a pandemic which could have been ended. And, just as is the case with the Taliban and ISIS, these Christian extremists would impose their ignorance embracing, often racist  beliefs on the entire country through force of law or violence as was witnessed on January 6, 2021, when insurrectionsts which included many, many Christian nationalists sacked the U.S. Capitol.

Responsible news reporting should be looking at the reality of the Afghanistan disaster launched by Geoprge W. Bush and Dick Cheney - after Reagan had funded what became the Taliban - and how religious extremism needs to be defeated here in America as well.  Exchange the Koran for the Bible and we have equally dangerous elements here in the USA. Prior to January 6, 2021, some would argue that domestic religious extremists would not resort to violence, but that story line no longer holds water.

We may not be able to save Afghanistan, but we still have the opportunity to save America from religious extremism and autocratic rule. Part of achieving these goals will require the media to do its job and stop looking for sensation simply in order to increase page views while aiding the enemies of America and democracy itself.

Thursday Morning Male Beauty


It’s the Pandemic, Stupid

Much of the media continues to engage in an orgy of sensational coverage of Afghanistan - it's all about clicks on online media stories, after all - while ignoring the biggest problem facing America: the continued Covid-19 pandemic.  Of course, much of the ongoing covid surge could have been avoided if all adults had done the responsible and, I would argue patriotic thing and gotten vaccinated.  The current surge was initially fueled by infections of the unvaccinated a majority of whom are Republicans and "conservatives."  Indeed, talking to a nurse at one large hospital system in this area yesterday, she said 100% of the ICU cases taht system is seeing are among unvaccinated individuals.  It seems that in order to harm Joe Biden's standing in the polls, many conservatives are harm their family members and frieds and potentially kill themselves. And in states like Florida, Texas, and Arizona GOP governors contine to back anti-mask and anti-vaccine mandate policies that are literally killing members of their party's base.  A piece in The Atlantic looks at the real issue facing Biden and Democrats.  Here are excerpts:

Losing a war undermines the public’s trust in any leader. But the setback causing the most damage to Joe Biden’s political standing likely isn’t the U.S. military defeat in Afghanistan—it’s the frustrating home-front struggle against the resurgent coronavirus pandemic.

A closer look at these surveys, however, suggests that the larger—and, for Biden, potentially more worrisome—factor in his declining support remains the pandemic. The NBC poll asked respondents what they considered the most important issue facing the country; the coronavirus was the top choice, while Afghanistan didn’t even make the list. The public also still supports Biden’s decision to withdraw American forces, recent surveys show. Simon Jaworski, the president of the U.S. office of Leger, which regularly conducts polls for The Atlantic, told me that Biden’s approval rating in its surveys had fallen significantly in the month before the Taliban regained control of Afghanistan.

One data point has jumped out to pollsters more than any other. From April to August, the percentage of people in the NBC poll who said that the worst of the pandemic was behind us plummeted by 24 points (from 61 percent to 37 percent). “These days, we just don’t see shifts like that in a lot of political measurements,” Jeff Horwitt, the Democratic half of the bipartisan polling team that ran the survey, told me. Leger measured a similar sentiment and saw an even more dramatic dip, from 60 percent in early July to just 32 percent about five weeks later.

For many Americans, the surging Delta variant has snuffed out the optimism they had in the spring. Consumer confidence has dropped sharply during the summer, as has the public’s overall assessment of the economy. People are naturally taking out their frustration on the president. Approval of Biden’s handling of both the pandemic and the economy has declined in recent polls. “This is really much more about COVID and people’s feelings about how this has been handled—the trajectory of the virus,” Horwitt said.

Voters elected Biden in no small part to get control of the pandemic, and to provide steady leadership that could steer the country to a return to normalcy. But the rise of Delta despite a mass-vaccination campaign has shown the imits of his ability to control the virus. Much of the resurgence isn’t Biden’s fault; millions of Americans, egged on by the skepticism and disinformation of conservative elites, have refused the inoculations, and COVID-19 is spreading fastest in places where vaccination rates are lowest. But Delta is everywhere now, and cases, hospitalizations, and deaths continue to rise nationwide. Even in highly vaccinated places, the virus’s spread is wreaking havoc with schools and travel, stunting return-to-office plans, and prompting an intense debate over the question of vaccine mandates.

Experts are worried about another seasonal spike at the end of the year, and the CDC is readying another blitz to provide booster shots to the entire country. The worst might be behind us, but the pandemic isn’t over. For Democrats, that reality is politically ominous. On Monday, Anthony Fauci, the White House’s chief medical adviser, told NPR that the U.S. might not get the virus under control until the fall of 2022, and only then if the “overwhelming” majority of Americans are vaccinated. He later clarified that statement, saying he meant to say the spring. “My bad,” Fauci told CNN’s Anderson Cooper. But the damage was done.

Next spring is certainly better than next fall, but either scenario is bad for Biden. Democrats are already favored to lose their slim congressional majorities in the midterm elections, thanks to the GOP’s advantage in gerrymandering and a historical disadvantage for the party in power. Their best hope is to be able to campaign on having defeated the virus and restored a booming, more equitable economy. The latest projections put that plan in serious doubt. Biden’s political gamble on Afghanistan, as my colleague Peter Nicholas reported, is that it was better to rip the bandage off now, to end a war that the public had soured on, even if doing so meant short-term chaos. The White House believes that the public’s attention span is fleeting, and that the images of carnage in Kabul will soon give way to other headlines.

Biden could easily win that bet: Americans might well forget about Afghanistan by the time they go to the polls next year. But for Democrats, it might not matter. The pandemic and the economy are top of mind for voters, and come the midterms, they could be casting their ballots in the midst of another long stalemate much closer to home.

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

More Wednesday Male Beauty


Only Fans And the War on Sex

 UPDATE:  Apparently Only Fans is backing down on its surrender to anti-porn forces as reported here.

For decades Christofascists and evangelicals have waged war against sex, fact based sex education and pornography - even though evangelicals in the Bible Belt use the highest levels of online porn.  Now, joined by some in the #MeToo movement these foes of sex and pornography have devised new strategies to try to ban porn: (i) claim porn adds to sex trafficking, and (ii) target credit card companies into refusing to process charges for porn sites such as Porn Hub.  The first strategy ignores the reality that Facebook contributes far more to sex trafficking acording to some studies and the second is making the credit card companies arbiters of what can be viewed by consenting adults raising First Amendment issues and making life more financially insecure for sex workers, both gay and straight.  A column in the New York Times looks at the raging debate and how Only Fans - a site that launched and made a fortune on sex - is moving to ban the content that made it a billion dollar enterprise.   I am not arguing for or against porn, but cannot help but note the hypocrisy and disingenuousness of some of those at war on sex.  Here are column excerpts: 

Last week, the paid subscription platform OnlyFans announced it was cracking down on the very content that built its business: pornography. The news, first reported by Bloomberg’s Lucas Shaw, created an infinite scroll of jokes on social media, but also a great deal of outrage and distress among the two million people for whom the platform had become a source of income. “OnlyFans is how I pay my rent,” one OnlyFans creator told The Times. “I feed myself from this.”

Pornography has been a subject of sustained national debate since the 1960s, but the battle lines have shifted and blurred over the decades: In the wake of the #MeToo movement, many liberals are now taking a closer look at the ubiquity of online porn and its treatment of women. At the same time, social media has given pornography and its creators a larger platform than they’ve ever had before.

Is pornography a vice to be regulated, or is it a kind of speech to be left largely alone? And what does the answer mean for the people whose livelihoods depend on it? Here’s what people are saying.

After the sexual revolution, pornography became a central preoccupation of the American right, at one point even more so than abortion and homosexuality. “Smut,” President Richard Nixon said in 1970, “should not be simply contained at its present level; it should be outlawed in every state in the Union.”

The cause found willing recruits in Christian conservatives like Jerry Falwell, but also in influential feminists on the left like the legal scholar Catharine MacKinnon and the activist and writer Andrea Dworkin. Dworkin believed that pornography constituted a violation of women’s civil rights: “Every rule of sexual abuse, every nuance of sexual sadism, every highway and byway of sexual exploitation, is encoded in it,” she wrote.

But by the end of the 1980s, the movement to censor pornography had foundered on First Amendment grounds, and American culture had largely moved on too. “High heels, lipstick and sex positivity were in,” Moira Donegan wrote for Bookforum in 2019. “Dworkin — and her gruesome, angry characterization of sexual violence — was decidedly out.”

In recent years, however, the proliferation of pornography online has revived interest in its regulation. As Maggie Jones wrote for The Times Magazine in 2018, pornography is now the de facto sex educator for American youth, prompting concern that internet-native generations are being taught ideas about heterosexual sex that are unrealistic at best and violently misogynistic at worst. (For gay and bisexual youth, Jones noted, studies show that pornography can be a source of affirmation.)

Last year, The Times columnist Nicholas Kristof detailed how pornography sites profit off this and other forms of abuse. One of the most-visited pornography websites, Pornhub, attracts 3.5 billion visits a month, more than Netflix or Amazon, and it’s “infested with rape videos,” he wrote. “It monetizes child rapes, revenge pornography, spy cam videos of women showering, racist and misogynist content, and footage of women being asphyxiated in plastic bags.”

Shortly after that column’s publication, Discover, Mastercard and Visa suspended payments to Pornhub. Mastercard later announced new rules for banks that process payments to sellers of adult content: Starting in October, sites will have to verify the age andidentity of anyone who is depicted in or uploads adult content, institute a pre-publication content review system, and offer speedy complaint resolutions and appeals.

These rule changes appear to have played a key role in OnlyFans’s recent ban. In a statement, the company said the move was made “to comply with the requests of our banking partners and payout providers.”

While the porn industry surely plays a role in facilitating sexual and economic exploitation, many performers reject the narrative that it’s a root cause of sex trafficking. Alana Evans, the head of the Adult Performers Actors Guild, notes in The Daily Beast that, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Pornhub’s parent company, which owns several other popular porn sites, accounted for 13,229 reports of “child sexual abuse material” in 2020; Facebook, on the other hand, accounted for 20.3 million — nearly 95 percent of all such reports. The majority of online recruitment in active sex trafficking cases in 2020 also occurred on Facebook, according to the Human Trafficking Institute.

So why the focus on pornography sites? In The New Republic, Melissa Gira Grant argues that pornography is just the latest target of Christian conservative organizations engaged in a “holy war” against what they see as America’s moral decay. Concerns about sex trafficking, she writes, offer a way for such groups — like Morality in the Media, an anti-porn organization founded in the 1960s that in 2015 rebranded itself as the National Center on Sexual Exploitation — to cast their mission as one of social justice.

Many pornography creators say the intensifying crackdown will only put them at greater personal and financial risk. “Companies like Mastercard are now accomplices in the disenfranchisement of millions of sex workers, complicit in pushing workers away from independence into potentially more dangerous and exploitative conditions,” the Free Speech Coalition, a trade association for the adult entertainment industry, said in a statement.

The paradox is especially bitter when it comes to OnlyFans, which took power and money away from studios and sites like Pornhub and put it into the hands of individual creators. When the pandemic hit, the platform also became a lifeline, offering countless performers a way to earn income in the safety of their own homes.

On top of its consequences for porn creators, OnlyFans’s decision raises important questions about the power that payment processors have over online speech. “Who gets to decide what stays and goes on the internet?asks Protocol’s Issie Lapowsky. In the case of OnlyFans, “The answer as to who’s calling the shots appears to be Visa and Mastercard.” Comparisons have been drawn to the content moderation regimes of social media giants like Facebook, but Lapowsky notes that the stakes are in some ways higher when it comes to credit-card companies because their policy decisions cut across industries.

Industry exploitation is perhaps an even thornier issue to solve, but Shane says the answer is to give creators more power, not less. OnlyFans offered many women a way to control their labor and keep most of their income, she writes in The Cut. But “what the internet gave — easy and no-cost means of advertisement, better tools for screening clients, cheaper ways to record and distribute porn — the government, with the devastatingly effective propaganda arm of anti-sex-industry civilian coalitions, keeps taking away.”

What do readers think?  The right wing enemies of porn are also typically the enemies of LGT individuals.

Wednesday Morning Male Beauty


Monday, August 23, 2021

Monday Morning Male Beauty


Atheists Show Higher Morals Than the Proudly Pious

A piece in Salon looks at a phenomenon that I began to notice decades ago as I observed the "Christian Right" and evangelicals as they grew in political influence within the Republican Party and as they viciously disseminated lies and untruths about the LGBT community:  those who put on the largest display of feigned religiosity are generally the most morally bankrupt and cruel towards others while atheists and agnostics display much more "Christian" behavior, if you will towards others.  Self-centeredness and a contempt - if not open hatred - towards those who are labeled as "other" is the most common trait of the evangelicals and Christofascist and on  a host of issues these people take positions diametrically opposed to what is consistent with Christ's social gospel message.   Here are article highlights:

The global pandemic and the rapidly warming of our planet — these dire phenomena are, above all, deeply moral matters in that they both entail care for the well-being of others and a desire to alleviate misery and suffering.

Now, while most people assume that such a morality is grounded in religious faith, and while it is certainly true that all religions contain plenty of moral ideals, in our nation today, it is actually the most secular among us who are exhibiting a greater moral orientation — in the face of deadly threats — than the most devout among us, who are exhibiting the least.

When I say the "most secular among us," I mean atheists, agnostics, people who never attend religious services, don't think the Bible is the word of God, and don't pray. Such self-conscious and deliberatively irreligious people are to be distinguished from the lackadaisically unaffiliated — often called "nones" — who simply don't identify with a religion.

And by the "most devout among us" I mean religious fundamentalists who believe in God without any doubts, who attend church frequently, who consider the Bible the infallible word of God, who pray a lot, and who insist that Jesus is the only way, the only truth, and the only life. These strongly religious folks are to be distinguished from moderately religious Americans, who are generally liberal and tolerant.

But as to those who occupy the end points of the spectrum, it is — as stated above — the affirmatively godless who are exhibiting greater moral proclivities in our nation today than the proudly pious. 

We can start with the global pandemic. COVID-19 is a potentially deadly virus that has caused — and continues to cause — dire woe. Surely, to be moral in the face of such a dangerous disease is to do everything one can — within one's limited power — to thwart it. No moral person would want to willfully spread it, bolster it, or prolong its existence. And yet, when it comes to the battle against COVID-19, it is the most secular of Americans who are doing what they can to wipe it out, while it is the most faithful among us, especially nationalistic white Evangelicals, who are keeping it alive and well. . . . here in the U.S., it is generally the most religious among us who refuse to adhere to such life-saving practices, while it is the most secular who most willingly comply.  

Consider climate change. The best available data shows that — as a direct result of human activity — we are destroying our planet. . . . . Such developments do not bode well for the future; more suffering and death are on the rapidly approaching horizon. And, yet again, what do we see? It is the most staunchly secular among us who understand the science behind climate change and want to do what needs to be done in order to prevent it, while it is the most pious among us who dismiss the science and don't want to address the dire threat. For example, a recent PRRI study found that over 80% of secular Americans accept the evidence that human activity is causing climate change — and they place addressing climate change at the top of the list of their political priorities — while only 33% of white Evangelicals accept such evidence, and thus place is towards the bottom of their list of political priorities. 

But it's not just the pandemic and climate change that illustrate this widening religious/secular moral divide. Take gun violence. Currently, more Americans die annually from firearms than automobile accidents; since 2009, there have been 255 mass shootings in the U.S.; every few hours, a child or teen dies from a gun wound. 

And yet, who is more pro-gun in today's America? Not the hardest of atheists. Rather, it is the most fervent of Christians. For but one example: While 77% of atheists are in favor of banning assault rifles, only 45% of white Evangelicals are.

In terms of who supports helping refugees, affordable health care for all, accurate sex education, death with dignitygay rightstransgender rightsanimal rights; and as to who opposes militarism, the governmental use of torture, the death penalty, corporal punishment, and so on — the correlation remains: The most secular Americans exhibit the most care for the suffering of others, while the most religious exhibit the highest levels of indifference.

And let's be frank: It is impossible to square the assertion that the strongly religious are "pro-life" while they simultaneously refuse to get vaccinated, to wear a mask, to fight climate change, to support universal healthcare, or to support sane gun legislation. To characterize such an agenda as "pro-life" renders the label rather insincere, at best. 

[T]he overall pattern remains clear: When it comes to the most pressing moral issues of the day, hard-core secularists exhibit much more empathy, compassion, and care for the well-being of others than the most ardently God-worshipping. Such a reality is necessary to expose, not simply in order to debunk the long-standing canard that religion is necessary for ethical living, but because such exposure renders all the more pressing the need for a more consciously secular citizenry, one that lives in reality, embraces science and empiricism, and supports sound policies — not prayer — as a way to make life better, safer and more humane.

Sunday, August 22, 2021

Sunday Morning Male Beauty


Republicans No Longer Care About the Common Good

Over the last few decades the Republican Party agenda routinely betrayed the interests of a majority of Americans  through policies that sought to slash the social safety net and shift wealth to the already wealthy.  Much of the party base was duped into voting against their own economic interests by appeals to "god, guns, and gays" and dog whistle racism.  With the advent of Donald Trump, the appeals to racism became open and no longer disguised and the base of the party became openly hostile to the majority of the citizenry and focused solely on its own hatreds and prejudices and obsessed with putting its "rights" and "freedom" ahead of the common good.  Indeed, through vaccine and mask refusal those "rights" now embody the right to sicken and kill others in society.  The selfishness and self-centeredness of the mindset is shocking, although not surprising given the hold evangelicals now hold over the GOP base and the willingness of Republican elected officials and candidates to prostitute themselves to this demographic.  Having followed the "Christian Right" for over three decades, no group in American society is more self-centered and contemptuous of others.  This poisonous midset is now the norm with the majority of Republicans as noted in two pieces in The Atlantic.  One notes as follows:

[T]he best way to think about the Republican opposition to COVID-19 precautions might be as another manifestation of the surging feeling in the American conservative movement that it represents an embattled minority that needs to use the power of government to defend its independence. Public opinion consistently shows majority support for mask mandates and vaccine requirements, but several states, all of them GOP-led, have prohibited them. The minority’s insistence on opposing masks and vaccines privileges the individual rights of the few Americans who don’t want to take these steps over those of the collective mass of their compatriots who don’t want themselves or their loved ones to get sick.

The other looks at the Republican rejction of the belief in the common good.  Here are highlights:

I loved to hear her [my grandmother] stories of living through the Great Depression and World War II. During the hard times of the 1930s, she said, neighbors banded together to help one another, pooling money to assist a destitute family or leaving food on the doorstep of a widow raising several children. While many fought fascism overseas, she and others saved rubber and tinfoil for the war effort and scrimped on food because of rationing on sugar, butter, gasoline, coal, and oil. “Not everybody was selfless, but most of us tried our best,” . . . . . “That’s what you should always do.” 

Sacrificing for the common good was something most of us were taught when I was growing up. Just a few decades later, I’m seeing people in my hometown, and all over the country, thinking only of themselves. They’re not just unwilling to make sacrifices for others during a pandemic; they’re angry about being asked to. 

I brought up the idea that wearing a mask is a small sacrifice that could be seen as a patriotic duty, but he dismissed the notion. “Why should I have to wear a mask to help protect whoever, or somebody who chose not to be vaccinated, when they could put a mask on?” he told me. He didn’t seem to see any contradiction in the fact that his district includes only kindergarten through eighth grade, a tiny percentage of whom would be of age to get vaccinated. 

The situation is only made worse by the many elected officials in my state who seem determined to make masks a political issue. While our Democratic governor is begging people to get vaccinated and to mask up, Thomas Massie, one of Kentucky’s Republican representatives, joined two other members of Congress in suing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for enforcing a mask rule in the House of Representatives chambers. In July, Representative Regina Huff, a Republican who chairs the House Education Committee, tweeted photos comparing Anthony Fauci’s encouragement to get vaccinated to the cult leader Jim Jones’s orchestration of the Jonestown massacre. Republican Senator Rand Paul recently had his YouTube channel briefly suspended because he was sharing false claims about the efficacy of masks, a punishment he welcomed as “a badge of honor.” 

My grandmother had very little patience for political showboating, and I believe she would have been disgusted by the politicization of a virus that has now killed more than 620,000 Americans. I also know that she was a stridently independent and stubborn person who would have resented being told what to do. But any time I doubt that she would have supported masking, I think back to her tales of living through the 1918 flu epidemic as a child, of her belief that she had to help in the war effort, of her fears that one of her children might contract polio in the surge of the early 1950s. Maybe too few people today understand the necessity of putting aside one’s own comforts to help others. Perhaps our sense of community has suffered in the digital age. It seems to me, however, that most of the blame should go to politicians who care more about stirring up fear to defeat their opponents than they do about people’s lives or the economy. 

I try to remind myself that most of us are looking out for our neighbors when I see the bantam-rooster blustering of politicians such as Senator Rand Paul. . . . . Those who are unwilling to sacrifice a small part of their daily comforts for the good of our country seem to be the loudest right now. But the statistics show that they are not in the majority. Most of us are thinking of one another. My grandmother would be proud.