Saturday, September 11, 2021

Saturday Morning Male Beauty


When Dictators and Authoritarians "Find God"

On the 20th Anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks that were motivated by both political motives and religious extremism, it is a fitting time to remember that over the course of human history religion has caused more deaths and bloodshed than anything save natural disasters and plagues.  It has more often then not been divisive and been used to divide populations into "us" and "them" and has been used to justify the murder of non-believers or those of no faith.  In addition, it has been used by dictators and autocrats to justify anti-democratic regimes and to maintain power and control of populations in countries across the globe be it imperial Russia, Spain under the Inquisition, the Massachusetts Bay colony, or Mormon controlled Utah. Sadly, if one looks around the world, one sees a new fusing of religion and authoritarian rule in China, Putin's Russia, Hungary, and the Republican Party of today which has as a core part of its base white Christian nationalists who support the disenfranchisement of those deemed "other" and the impositon of their form of toxic religious belief on all of society - think Texas' new abortion law - and rally to would be dictators like Donald Trump.  Far too often leaders using religion have zero religious belief but cynically use religion to dupe the masses and restrict human rights.  A column in the New York Times looks at religion reverting to its past role of supporting dictators and stamping out democracy and human rights.  Here are excerpts:

What is the 21st century going to be about? If you had asked me 20 years ago, on, say, Sept. 10, 2001, I would have had a clear answer: advancing liberalism. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the end of apartheid, Deng Xiaoping’s reforms in China, a set of values seemed to be on the march — democracy, capitalism, egalitarianism, individual freedom.

Then over the ensuing decades, democracy’s spread was halted and then reversed. Authoritarians in China, Central and Eastern Europe and beyond wielded power. We settled into the now familiar contest between democratic liberalism and authoritarianism.

But over the last several years something interesting happened: Authoritarians found God. They used religious symbols as nationalist identity markers and rallying cries. They unified the masses behind them by whipping up perpetual culture wars. They reframed the global debate: It was no longer between democracy and dictatorship; it was between the moral decadence of Western elites and traditional values and superior spirituality of the good normal people in their own homelands.

The 21st century is turning into an era of globe-spanning holy wars at a time when the appeal of actual religion seems to be on the wane.

Xi Jinping is one of the architects of this spiritually coated authoritarianism. Mao Zedong regarded prerevolutionary China with contempt. But Xi’s regime has gone out of its way to embrace old customs and traditional values. China scholar Max Oidtmann says it is restricting independent religious entities while creating a “Socialist core value view,” a creed that includes a mixture of Confucianism, Daoism, Marxism and Maoism.

Last week, the Chinese government ordered a boycott of “sissy pants” celebrities. These are the delicate-looking male stars who display gentle personalities and are accused of feminizing Chinese manhood. This is only one of the culture war forays designed to illustrate how the regime is protecting China from Western moral corruption.

The Chinese internet is apparently now rife with attacks on the decadent “white left” — educated American and European progressives who champion feminism, L.G.B.T.Q. rights and such.

Vladimir Putin and the other regional authoritarians play a similar game. Putin has long associated himself with religious philosophers like Ivan Ilyin and Nikolai Berdyaev. In an essay for the Berkley Center at Georgetown University, Dmitry Uzlaner reports that the regime is casting itself as “the last bastion of Christian values” that keeps the world from descending into liberal moral chaos.

The culture war is going full blast there, too, with the regime restricting the internet, attempting to limit abortion, relaxing the fight against domestic violence and imposing blasphemy laws and a ban on supplying information to minors that supports “nontraditional sexual relations.”

Even wannabe authoritarians in America and Western Europe are getting in on the game. The international affairs scholar Tobias Cremer has shown that many of the so-called Christian nationalists who populate far-right movements on both sides of the Atlantic are actually not that religious.

They are motivated by nativist and anti-immigrant attitudes and then latch onto Christian symbols to separate “them” from “us.” . . . . right-wing American extremists “parade Christian crosses at rallies, use Crusader imagery in their memes and might even seek alliances with conservative Christian groups. But such references are not about the living, vibrant, universal and increasingly diverse faith in Jesus Christ that is practiced in the overwhelming majority of America’s churches today. Instead, in white identity, politics Christianity is largely turned into a secularized ‘Christianism’: a cultural identity-marker and symbol of whiteness that is interchangeable with the Viking-veneer, the Confederate flag, or neo-pagan symbols.”

These religiously cloaked authoritarians have naturally provoked an anti-religious backlash among those who understandably now associate religion with authoritarianism, nativism and general thuggishness. The rising and unprecedented levels of secularism in Europe and the U.S. over the past several decades have not produced less vicious cultural and spiritual warfare.

The pseudo-religious authoritarians have raised the moral stakes. They act as if individualism, human rights, diversity, gender equality, L.G.B.T.Q. rights and religious liberty are just the latest forms of Western moral imperialism and the harbingers of social and moral chaos.

Those of us on the side of Western liberalism have no choice but to fight this on the spiritual and cultural plane as well, to show that pluralism is the opposite of decadence, but is a spiritual-rich, practically effective way to lift human dignity and run a coherent society.

Be very afraid - both of this use of religion for power and control overseas and right here at home.  In Virginia's statewide elections, the choice is between democracy supporting Demorcats and Republican candidates in the thrall of Christofascists, not just the wealthy how want ever lower taxes.  

Friday, September 10, 2021

Friday Morning Male Beauty


The Supreme Court Approved Vaccine Mandates Over 100 Years Ago

With the Biden administration expanding Vaccine mandates for federal employees and companies with over 100 employees (I wish it applied to all employers), many Republican elected officials and the deplorables that comprise so much of the GOP base are apoplectic that their "freedom" to harm and endanger others is being restricted.  Some Republican governors are threatening to sue to block mandates even as many in the GOP base sicken and die - it's hard not to think good riddance at times - and continue to fuel the rise in new Covid cases which are increasingly impacting children.  The insanity and contempt for the common good of these people is mind numbing.  One can only hope any lawsuits launchedagainst vaccine mandates will collide head on with the precedent of a 1905 U.S. Supreme Court rulingthat upheld vaccine mandates.  A piece in Politico Magazine looks at the ruling and how it will hopefully be affirmed if the issue gets before the Court once again.  Here are article excerpts:

Henning Jacobson, a 50-year-old minister, put his faith in his own liberty. Back in his native Sweden, he had suffered a bad reaction to a vaccine as an infant, struggling for years with an angry rash. Now he was an American citizen, serving as pastor of the Swedish Lutheran Church in Cambridge, Massachusetts. That gave him the full protections of the U.S. Constitution.

So when the Cambridge board of health decided that all adults must be vaccinated for smallpox, Jacobson sought refuge in the Constitution’s promise that no state shall “deprive any person of life, liberty or property without due process of law.”

The year was 1904, and when his politically charged legal challenge to the $5 fine for failing to get vaccinated made its way to the Supreme Court, the justices had a surprise for Rev. Jacobson. One man’s liberty, they declared in a 7-2 ruling handed down the following February, cannot deprive his neighbors of their own liberty — in this case by allowing the spread of disease. Jacobson, they ruled, must abide by the order of the Cambridge board of health or pay the penalty.

“There are manifold restraints to which every person is necessarily subject for the common good,” read the majority opinion. “On any other basis, organized society could not exist with safety to its members. Society based on the rule that each one is a law unto himself would soon be confronted with disorder and anarchy.”

Jacobson’s claim was essentially the same as that taken for granted by vaccine skeptics today: That they have the personal liberty under the U.S. Constitution to decide for themselves whether to take the shot. Backed by a group called The Anti-Vaccination Society, Jacobson made a formidable case, incorporating many of the same arguments about freedom from government interference that are ricocheting around cable TV this summer, and mouthed by politicians.

The question of whether those freedoms include refusing a legally mandated Covid-19 vaccine, should any government implement such a requirement today, has yet to come before the Supreme Court — or any court. But in the event that it does, the 116-year-old case brought by Henning Jacobson would be the standing legal precedent. In deciding whether the rules that the Jacobson decision rendered for smallpox would apply to Covid-19, today’s court would need to reckon with a different medical landscape, as well as the freighted politics of the moment. The justices would also find themselves grappling with the legacy of the man who wrote the opinion, Justice John Marshall Harlan.

Known for his highly principled dissents, and most famously for taking a lonely stand in favor of Black rights in the late 19th Century, Harlan in this case wrote for a clear majority of the court. He concluded: “Real liberty for all could not exist under the operation of a principle which recognizes the right of each individual person to use his own, whether in respect of his person or his property, regardless of the injury that may be done to others.”

His balancing of the rights of vaccine skeptics against the rights of the community seems especially compelling at a time when those who refuse to get vaccinated are fueling fresh outbreaks and inviting the creation of variants that pierce the defenses of those who are fully immunized. And his thinking could have special resonance: While many of his colleagues have faded into history, today’s justices, conservatives and liberals alike, profess themselves to be deep admirers of Harlan.

I studied the court’s 1905 decision in Jacobson v. Massachusetts, along with the briefs of the lawyers who argued the case, . . . . what struck me wasn’t just the contrasting ways that Harlan’s principles played out in majority opinions and dissents, but the extent to which the Jacobson case was so eerily on-point to current debates about Covid-19.

Could Harlan’s notion of competing freedoms transform the still-simmering debate over vaccine mandates, which now seem more possible with full FDA approval of the various vaccines either in place or on the horizon? Certainly, he offers a powerful rebuttal to those who feel that personal liberty is only in play when someone is compelled to be vaccinated: The Jacobson holding suggests that other people, from co-workers to classmates to neighbors, have a corresponding liberty interest in being free from infectious disease. Like those who inhale passive smoke, they, too, are affected by a decision that others deem a matter of personal choice.

And the court’s ruling makes clear that a community in danger has every right to protect itself.

That was one of numerous medical claims that Jacobson presented to the court. All would sound familiar to today’s vaccine skeptics, ranging from reasonable-seeming contentions like “the result of vaccination cannot be foretold in any case,” to balder assertions such as “vaccination causes loathsome diseases,” to statements that may be technically true but carry more than a tinge of conspiracy, including “vaccination does not prevent smallpox but spreads the disease.”

Jacobson vowed to prove the truth of all those statements and more, but the courts wouldn’t have it.

“The only ‘competent evidence’ that could be presented to the court to prove these propositions was the testimony of experts, giving their opinions,” concluded the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, which Harlan quoted in the Supreme Court decision. “Assuming that medical experts could have been found who would have testified in support of these propositions, [the court] would have been obliged to consider the evidence in connection with facts of common knowledge, which the court will always regard in passing upon the constitutionality of a statute.”

Those facts, the court stated, include “that for nearly a century, most of the members of the medical profession have regarded vaccination, repeated after intervals, as a preventive of smallpox; that, while they have recognized the possibility of injury to an individual from carelessness in the performance of it, or even, in a conceivable case, without carelessness, they generally have considered the risk of such an injury too small to be seriously weighed as against the benefits coming from the discreet and proper use of the preventive.”

Henning Jacobson was not only attacking the board of health’s vaccination order as being of questionable legal basis, he was asserting his freedom to reject it out on his own accord. His lawyers’ brief to the Supreme Court made a passionate case for his right to control his own medical decisions, in an argument that foreshadows the “medical freedom” framing of anti-vaccine and anti-mask campaigners today: . . . .

“There is, of course, a sphere within which the individual may assert the supremacy of his own will and rightfully dispute the authority of any human government,” Harlan, writing for the majority, acknowledged. “But it is equally true that, in every well ordered society charged with the duty of conserving the safety of its members the rights of the individual in respect of his liberty may at times, under the pressure of great dangers, be subjected to such restraint, to be enforced by reasonable regulations, as the safety of the general public may demand.

Many of those conservative justices, along with their liberal colleagues, are Harlan admirers. Jurists across the political spectrum respect the way that Harlan’s heartfelt dissents in cases involving the rights of African Americans and Gilded Age economic excesses helped turn the tide of legal thinking. Chief Justice John Roberts went so far as to place Harlan’s portrait on the walls of the room where justices discuss cases. And now it appears that they may, again, be called upon to assess the wisdom and prescience of his words in yet another case of urgent national importance.

Could the Great Dissenter emerge as the Great Protector of the Covid-19 pandemic? Only time will tell. 

Thursday, September 09, 2021

Thursday Morning Male Beauty


America Needs to "Nation Build" At Home

With over $8 trillion squandered in the Middle East since 9/11 and efforts at nation building in Iraq and Afghanistan failing, it is fa past time the America did some nation building at home where our infrastructure is crumbing in many areas and life expectancy has fallen unlike in other adanced industrial countries. But, as a column at CNN argues, nation building here at home involves more than spending on steel, bricks, mortar and asphalt.  It also involves investing our own democracy through better civics education, expanded, not restricted, voting rights and public engagement in the political process.   On the education front, in high school we had an entire year long course on government and how both the state and federal government were structured and were supposed to operate. Now, many public school students receive little or nothing along those lines.  It's little wonder the younger generations are sick of politics.  Here are column highlights:

After witnessing the earth-shattering 9/11 attacks on US soil, many of us felt we would never be the same again. The world order had somehow changed, and so had we as Americans.

Soon, thousands of US soldiers would be deployed to Afghanistan in pursuit of a set of illusory goals --often unclear to the long-suffering people of that distant country, the American public and even American and allied leaders. 

Although President Joe Biden claimed on August 16 that the US military operation in Afghanistan was only ever focused on counterterrorism and "was never supposed to have been nation building," this assertion contradicts statements made by then President George W. Bush and by Biden himself as a US senator -- before he changed his mind as vice president during the Obama administration. 

Almost 20 years after 9/11, to the despair of many Afghans, Kabul is back under the control of the Taliban, hardline Islamists. There is little doubt that they will reimpose their brutal version of Sharia, or Islamic law. After the chaotic, at times violent withdrawal from Afghanistan, this defeat -- and there is no other way to describe it -- should spark a collective realization that we cannot simply impose our system of government on countries with vastly different cultures, histories, belief systems, outlooks and ambitions.

Biden was right to withdraw US troops. History has shown us the pitfalls of nation building abroad. If we want to uphold the blessings of democracy, perhaps America should be looking inward -- building up our own nation.

The time has now come for the US to truly commit itself to lead -- if, indeed, we are entitled to lead at all -- by example. If we believe that a strong, stable democracy is the best form of government, then we need to start by making sure that we actually have one that inspires others. Over the last 20 years, we have failed to work on preserving our own democracy, which now confronts alarming levels of polarization and voter suppression. 

I am by no means suggesting we turn our backs on people around the world who suffer under the yoke of oppression -- but prolonged military interventions and misguided attempts at nation building are not the answer. 

America should use its enormous wealth and influence on the international stage to do good wherever and whenever it can. We can achieve this by sending carefully targeted (and administered) --and generous -- financial aid to those in need, and by promoting -- through both diplomatic leverage and our own actions -- the values of freedom, equality and human rights that we share with our allies. 

We also have the capacity to provide a safe haven for people fleeing persecution. 

First, it is crucial to involve individuals in the democratic process from the bottom up. In addition to electing local representatives, we should encourage participation in local and national deliberative bodies, such as citizens' assemblies, crowd-sourced initiatives that bring together people who have been chosen randomly to reflect the population.

Second, fair voting rights, which are still cruelly lacking in many US states, also need to be a priority. Urgent action should be taken to make up lost ground here. We must put a stop to the further disenfranchisement of the poorest, most disadvantaged Americans, beginning with US senators passing the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. 

The final nation-building block is civic education. In 2018, Sarah Shapiro and Catherine Brown of the Center for American Progress found that most states only required a half year of civics or US government education. Ten states had no civics requirement at all. No states had a civics curriculum that included a local problem-solving component, a key element in the acquisition of the skills and agency for civic engagement. 

On the date of the withdrawal deadline, President Biden said, "This decision about Afghanistan is not just about Afghanistan -- it's about ending an era of major military operations to remake other countries." 

Perhaps we should not ask ourselves whether we should now embark on a campaign to remake our own country instead, but whether we can afford not to. For without the insurance policy of a robust democratic political system, what stands between us and the rule of authoritarian extremists? 

Our democracy cannot act as a guiding light in the world if, through our negligence, we allow it to be extinguished.


Wednesday, September 08, 2021

Wednesday Morning Male Beauty


America Is Becoming a Different Country

A lengthy column in the New York Times looks at the changing attitudes and values of educated suburban residents versus the views and beliefs of the less educated and those living in rural and socially backward regions of the country.   This shift helps explain the flight of educated and suburban voters from the Republican Party and the growing impatience with and loss of respect for so-called "conservatives" who cling to racial and religious divisions and deem themselves "true Americans" while whining about blue states and liberals even though it is the blue states and liberal cities that are paying the taxes that support a form of federal welfare that props up many red states financially. Ironically, it is the liberals condemned by the right who support Universal ethical values while the falsely pious crowd into their church pews and demand rights for themselve while condemning others and seeking to impose their divicive beliefs on all.  Where it will all end is anyone's guess, but the divisions are unlikely to end in the near term.  One possiblility is that and at some point the progressive majority will revolt against the tyranny of the minority pushed by the Republican Party agenda even as the GOP seeks to further inflame the greivances of its shrinking base.  Here are column excerpts:

A highly charged ideological transition reflecting a “massive four-decade long shift in political values and attitudes among more educated people — a shift from concern with traditional materialist issues like redistribution to a concern for public goods like the environment and diversity” is a driving force in the battle between left and right, according to Richard Florida, an urbanologist at the University of Toronto.

This ideological transition has been accompanied by the concentration of liberal elites in urban centers, Florida continued in an email, brought on by the dramatic shift to a knowledge economy, which expresses itself on the left as “wokeness” and on the right as populism. I worry that the middle is dropping out of American politics. This is not just an economic or cultural or political phenomenon, it is inextricably geographic or spatial as different groups pack and cluster into different kinds of communities.

Recent decades have witnessed what Dennis Chong, a political scientist at the University of Southern California, describes in an email as “a demographic realignment of political tolerance in the U.S. that first became evident in the late 1980s-early 1990s.”

Before that, Chong pointed out, “the college educated, and younger generations, were among the most tolerant groups in the society of all forms of social and political nonconformity.” Since the 1990s, “these groups have become significantly less tolerant of hate speech pertaining to race, gender and social identities.”

Chong argued that “the expansion of equal rights for racial and ethnic minorities, women, L.G.B.T.Q. and other groups that have suffered discrimination has caused a re-evaluation of the harms of slurs and other derogatory expressions in professional and social life.”

In an Aug. 21 paper, “Cancel Culture: Myth or Reality?” Norris writes that “In postindustrial societies characterized by predominately liberal social cultures, like the U.S., Sweden, and UK, right-wing scholars were most likely to perceive that they faced an increasingly chilly climate.”

Eric Kaufmann, a political scientist at the University of London and the author of “Whiteshift: Populism, Immigration and the Future of White Majorities,” argued in a series of emails that the views of white liberals are shaped by their distinctive set of priorities. In contrast to white conservatives, Kaufmann wrote, “white liberals have low attachment to traditional collective identities (race, nation, religion) but as high attachment to moral values and political beliefs as conservatives. This makes the latter most salient for them.” According to Kaufmann, white liberals “have invested heavily in universalist ethical values.”

One of the less recognized factors underlying efforts by conservatives and liberals to enforce partisan orthodoxy lies in the pressure to maintain party loyalty at a time when the Democratic and Republicans are struggling to manage coalitions composed of voters with an ever-expanding number of diverse commitments — economic, cultural, racial — that often do not cohere.

It’s not too much to say that the social and cultural changes of the past four decades have been cataclysmic. The signs of it are everywhere. Donald Trump rode the coattails of these issues into office. Could he — or someone else who has been watching closely — do it again?

Tuesday, September 07, 2021

More Tuesday Male Beauty


Ralph Northam: Virginia is Proud Welcome Our Afghan Allies

Republicans have been quick to criticize the Biden administration's exit from Afghanistan - ignoring, of course,  the fact that Donald Trump negotiated the hasty witdrawal - and bloviated about how the final evacuation of Americans and Afghan allies could have and should have done better.  Now, with the Afghan evacuaees in need of new places to call home, Republicans are some 20% less likely to approve of welcoming Afghan evacuees to America and their home states.  Indeed, two Republican governors - not surprisingly the red states of Wyoming and South Dakota - have refused to accept Afghan evacuees for resettlemt while eleven more governors have sought to evade the issue.  The contrast of these states with Democrat controlled Virginia could not be more stark as embodied by Governor Ralph Northam's op-ed in the Washington Post which lays out why accepting Afghan evacuees is the right and moral thing to do.  Here are op-ed highlights (Note: Northam is a military veteran and physician who served in Desert Storm):

Last month, the United States’ war in Afghanistan ended after 20 years. As a veteran who served during Desert Storm, I know that war is brutal. This war saw the deployment of hundreds of thousands of troops and took the lives of countless humanitarian workers, journalists, Afghan civilians and 2,461 service members — including more than 70 Virginians.

In recent weeks, we’ve also learned more about the plight of thousands of Afghans who put themselves in danger by supporting, protecting and collaborating with our American service members for the past two decades.

This war has taken a toll on those wounded and on our Gold Star families who have experienced tremendous grief and loss. In Virginia, we are committed to helping these current service members, veterans and their families get the support and care they need.

As for our Afghan partners, fortunately, thousands — including children and families — have been rescued through the military evacuation.

For many of our Afghan allies coming to the United States, their first stop is Virginia. This means our commonwealth has the honor of being the first to welcome our Afghan allies to our country.

And because we are a nation of immigrants, welcome is the right word.  We owe a special debt to the Afghan people who stepped up to serve the U.S. armed forces as interpreters and translators and in other roles because they wanted a better future for their country. These Afghan allies served alongside our troops — and, often, they gave their lives as well.

As humans, we have a moral obligation to help our fellow people. I believe in treating others as we would wish to be treated. Imagine yourself in the shoes of the Afghan families you’ve seen on the news, walking through Dulles International Airport with, likely, just the clothes on their backs. They fled their homes to save their lives.

[A]s the federal government rightfully focused on getting people out of Afghanistan, Virginia stepped up, and our state and local agencies worked with federal partners to provide support after they arrived in the commonwealth.

Thousands of our Afghan allies and their families are now at three military bases in Virginia: Fort Lee, Fort Pickett and Quantico. I have been fortunate to be able to visit with some of the Afghan people there. Over and over, people shook my hand and expressed their thanks. There was hope, dreams of a better future, and gratitude for the work of our volunteers, service members and staff. As I met with the many children and their parents, I recognize they have so much to offer us but will need Virginia’s help to rebuild their lives here.

Many of the Afghan people arriving here have special immigrant visas (SIV), in recognition of the work they did to support U.S. efforts. In the past, Virginia has been one of the top three states to receive Afghan SIV members resettling in their new home.

We’re ready to help provide health and social services, education, child care, housing and workforce development services these families will need to successfully build new lives. Welcoming new Americans is such an important part of our work to make Virginia a more diverse and inclusive state that we established an Office of New Americans to make sure all immigrants get the support they need.

Our goal is to make sure people feel welcome in their new home here, so they can live, contribute and thrive.

In doing so, we not only begin to fulfill our moral obligations to these extraordinary people but also honor the 20 years of service and sacrifices of our brave men and women in uniform.

Those years and those sacrifices were not in vain. In those 20 years, Afghanistan was able to educate girls. Women worked. Children grew up with more freedom and less fear.

In the United States, we are blessed with so much. The United States has long presented itself as a haven, a place of stability and economic prosperity. We promote the ideals upon which this country was founded, a promise of peace, liberty and freedom. To uphold those ideals abroad, we must welcome equitable access to them here at home.

This is why we welcome our Afghan allies and stand ready to help them rebuild their lives in Virginia. We have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from Virginians who want to help — by providing clothing, toys, puzzles, toiletries, things to help refugee families get through these early days. Within Virginia, the best way to help is to call 2-1-1 to be connected with the local resettlement agencies that are directly assisting these families.

Virginia is a diverse, equitable and inclusive place. Our lights are on and our doors are open to welcome new Virginians. I hope every Afghan family who stays here finds Virginia to be a home they are as proud of as I am.

Governor Northam makes me proud to be a Virginian - and to count him as a friend.

Tuesday Morning Male Beauty


Monday, September 06, 2021

More Monday Male Beauty


The Sudden Silence of Conservative Abortion Foes

A piece in The Atlantic looks at the unusual silence on the political right in the wake of the Texas law that bans almost all abortions even in cases of rape and incest.  For Republican office holders both inside and outside of Texas the law - which sets up a vigilante framework - may yet turn out to be a case of "becareful what you wish for." While the Supreme Court punted on the issue last week under the guise that there were no government officials to enjoin from enforcing the law, the private vigilante framework set up by the law could result in federal prosecutions of the private citizens for interferring with constitutional rights of the targets of their vigliante justice as set out in a column in the Washington Post by a noted legal scholar.  Moreover, the law could trigger a backlash harmful to Republican prospects in 2022 - or 2021 here in Virginia - and has prompted some calls already to end the U.S. Senate filibuster so that federal legislation can be enacted that would supercede the Texas law.    Here are excerpts from The Atlantic:

[S]omething strange has happened since a new Texas law that practically bans abortion after six weeks went into effect this week, with the passive assent of the U.S. Supreme Court. Liberal groups have been predictably furious and upset, though they recognize that Democrats who control the White House, the House, and (tenuously) the Senate cannot do much. More left-leaning and centrist media outlets, having largely ignored the law before it went into effect, have now entered overdrive in their coverage.

But conservatives have been conspicuously silent. As Vox’s Aaron Rupar, who obsessively tracks Fox News, noted, the network paid little attention to the Texas law for much of the day Thursday. Later in the evening, Tucker Carlson did discuss it, sprinkling bad information in as he went. Some anti-abortion organizations have celebrated the news . . . . But across much of the right, reaction to the law, and the Court’s refusal to block it, have been met with either silence or muted approval.

Why is this moment playing out differently? One possibility is that many anti-abortion conservatives understand that their victory this week is tenuous. Texas’s law relies on a novel mechanism: Rather than imposing a state-enforced ban on abortions, it allows private citizens to bring suits against people who provide or even abet abortions after six weeks. “​​The statutory scheme before the court is not only unusual, but unprecedented,” wrote Chief Justice John Roberts, who would have blocked the law, in a dissent.

In a one-paragraph decision, however, the majority concluded that because the law hadn’t been enforced yet, and because there were no government officials to enjoin from enforcing it, the Court couldn’t rule on it. That may be a dubious cop-out, but at some point the case is likely to come before the justices again on the merits, and before other judges.

Many constitutional scholars are skeptical that the law can withstand such a challenge, and so celebration now may be premature. In the meantime, antagonizing the judicial system with football spikes may be unwise—no matter how much judges are meant to insulate themselves from any such feelings.

A second theory is that conservatives understand the law will be unpopular. This is probably true, and to some extent explains the understated reaction on the right. Polls generally find that 60 to 65 percent of Americans oppose overturning Roe v. Wade. Although a majority of Texans may support the law, and indeed a majority of voters in other red states, the national political landscape is not so friendly.

For decades, my colleague David Frum writes, “opposition to abortion offered Republican politicians a lucrative, no-risk political option.” Many GOP candidates seemed to adopt the position hypocritically, never wanting such rules to apply to their own wives and daughters, but conscious of the power and money of the religious right. Railing against abortion is easy as long as you assume that no court will actually outlaw it and you won’t alienate swing voters (say, suburban women) who lean conservative but back the right to choose.

Now Democrats are hopeful that backlash will aid them in an uphill 2022 midterm battle, my colleague Elaine Godfrey reports. Why would Republicans tout a victory most people will see as a defeat?

Not only is banning abortion outright unpopular, but overturning Roe might be a Pyrrhic victory for the national Republican Party, which would lose one of its strongest wedge issues. The abortion wars would not end (they never will), but the end of Roe would shift the battlefield and might take some momentum away from the right.

Donald Trump grasped the importance of abortion politics to capturing religious voters who were otherwise queasy about his moral character. In the end, those moral qualms were accurate, but religious conservatives mostly decided that they didn’t care and they got the judges they wanted out of it. But now, voters who have been eager to elect GOP candidates because they want Roe gone won’t feel the same urgency to vote—a special risk when there are signs that Republicans, rather than Democrats, are now the party of low-propensity voters.

For them, the unpopularity of Texas’s law and other drastic abortion legislation is, at most, a second-order concern. They want to ban abortion, full stop, and any political considerations matter only insofar as they serve or conflict with that mission. Anti-abortion activists can read the polls as well as anyone else, and they understand that at least some access to abortion remains more popular than not.

As the impact of Texas’s law sinks in, Republican elected officials in several states have begun to express interest in exploring their own version of the law. In part, that reflects the demands of conservative bases in their home states, and in part it reflects a recognition that as long as Democrats are eager to make a fuss about the issue, it will get attention. The quiet may end soon, but the underlying political obstacle course for conservatives seeking to eliminate Roe isn’t going away.

Monday Morning Male Beauty


The Parallels Between the KKK and Trumpism

The Klu Klux Klan is a symbol of the enduring use of hatred of others and a malignant form white supremacy to seek political power and the concept that America is only for "true Americans" - typically white, Protestant and xenophobic.  Over time, the Klan increased the targets of its hate campaign from African Americans to Jews, Catholics, the non-white foreign born, and gays.  A piece in the New York Times notes how it parallels with Trumpism which targets hatred not only at non-whites to now "liberals" and even medical experts who support life saving vaccines and practices.  Indeed, from the launch of his campaign in 2015 through his refusal to condemn neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, Trump has incessantly pushed a message of division and hate towards those his base deems as "other."  It is no coincidence that hate crimes have soared in number.   Here are column excepts:

One hundred years ago this week, The New York World began to publish a 21-part explosive exposé on the inner workings of the Ku Klux Klan.

It was a sensation. At least 18 other newspapers across the country ran The World’s bombshell reporting. According to The Columbia Journalism Review, “The series drew two million readers nationwide. New Yorkers stood in line for copies. And the Justice Department and several congressmen promised to investigate the group.”

But, as I read through that coverage to write this column, I was struck by just how resilient Klan ideology has been in the years since The World exposed the group’s systems and rituals; its ideas have been repackaged and dressed up — or, disrobed, as it were — but the core tenets remain the same. I was even struck by how many of the same tactics are still being used to preserve white supremacy and subjugate racial, ethnic and religious minorities in this country.

It proves to me that Klan thinking is not really about the organization itself or its tactics — the night riding or cross burning — but about the very meaning of America and who controls it.

As one of the Klan’s “grand goblins” put it in a 1921 speech: “America for real Americans! . . . . By the early 1920s, its leaders had moved on from primarily anti-Black hatred. To grow the brand, they had to grow the ring of bias. As one of The World’s articles put it, “Now the negro has become a side issue with it. Today it is primarily anti-Jew, anti-Catholic, anti-alien, and it is spreading more than twice as fast through the North and West as it is growing in the South.”

That is not dissimilar from today, when xenophobia and Islamophobia have taken a more prominent role.

In fact, The World wrote that at times the Klan would tailor its message of hate by region, appealing to Japanophobes on the Pacific Coast, framing itself as a bulwark against radicalism in the “Central West,” fanning hatred of immigrants on the Atlantic Coast and stoking fears about Jews and Catholics throughout the country.

As The World put it, “Wherever a prospective member lives, he has been promised that his pet aversion will be made an object of Klan action.”  This sounds eerily similar to the successful campaign that Donald Trump ran in 2016.

Many of his supporters view America not as a grand idea, malleable and expandable, but as a white man’s invention in which the displacement and slaughter of Native people and the enslavement of Africans was a necessary evil. . . . it promises a society bowing at their feet, a nation defined by its reverence for whiteness.

At one of the Klan’s initiations, members were told to say, “All men in America must honor that flag — if we must make them honor it on their knees!” Anyone else remember how Trump supporters treated Colin Kaepernick?

Furthermore, the Klan realized, much as Trump did, that hate was an industry and that the right — or wrong — man could milk it for profit. As The World wrote at the time:

The original Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, Inc., modestly begun five years ago, has become a vast enterprise, doing a thriving business in the systematic sale of race hatred, religious bigotry and “100 percent” anti-Americanism.

Perhaps the last lesson and similarity between the Klan of the 1920s and Trump’s legion of supporters are that exposure doesn’t necessarily lead to eradication. After The World’s exposé, the Klan didn’t shrink; its membership surged.

In 1913, eight years before The World’s articles, Louis D. Brandeis, soon to be nominated as a Supreme Court justice, wrote a piece in Harper’s Weekly under the headline “What Publicity Can Do,” arguing that “sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.”

But in journalism, this idiom is more complicated. Sometimes, the infected court the infection. Sometimes, the light you shine on evil also illuminates the path to it. Sometimes, publicity is advertising.

Consider how this continues to manifest today. Over the past few years, we’ve seen how the press has amplified all manner of conservative fictions and fever dreams, from election denial to the rise of QAnon conspiracy theories to the lunacy of the anti-vax movement.

Sunday, September 05, 2021

More Sunday Male Beauty


It's Time to Force Youngkin Into the Open on Abortion

Glenn Youngkin has been in league with the theocrats at The Family Foundation and similar ultra far right "Christian" groups from the onset of his campaign.  Youngkin has promised these factions to end or highly restrict abortion in gatherings closed to the press while pretending to the larger public that he's not a wolf in sheep's even though he is one in fact.   Now, with Texas' near total ban on abortion - even in cases of rape or incest - which Virginia theocrats want to bring to Virginia it is past time that Youngkin's true position to disclosed to the public and his duplicitous evasions come to an end.  The reality is that Youngkin is just as extreme on his positions as Ken "Kookinelli" Cuccinelli was, the only difference being that Youngkin is better at holding his tongue and engaging in evasion that Kookinelli.  It is noteworthy that Youngkin's running mate - the truly scary Winsome Sears - has come out in favor of bringing a Texas style law to Virginia. A piece in the Washington Post looks at the situation in the wake of the Texas abortion law.  It's important that voters realize that abortion is but one of the Christofascist agenda items favored by Youngkin and the GOP ticket. Here are article highlights:

A new law banning most abortions in Texas instantly planted the divisive issue in the center of a governor's race some 1,500 miles away in Virginia, where Democrat Terry McAuliffe had already been hammering on the subject and Republican Glenn Youngkin was doing his best to avoid it.

McAuliffe, a former governor seeking a comeback, launched two TV ads focused on abortion just days before the Texas statute took effect Wednesday. Texas pushed his efforts into overdrive. Within hours, McAuliffe was blasting the law at a business forum, in fundraising appeals and on Twitter.

Youngkin — caught on video early in the campaign saying he would play down his opposition to abortion to woo independent voters, then go “on offense” as governor — sidestepped questions about whether he would back a Texas-style law in Virginia . . . Youngkin also grumbled a bit that the issue was suddenly overshadowing all others, but he embraced it in his own way, as his campaign played up a video calling McAuliffe’s abortion stance “extreme.”

But there was no hesitation on the part of Winsome Sears, the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor and former state delegate, who said in an interview Friday on Newsmax that she would back a Texas-style bill. “I would support that,” she said. “When did it become the wrong thing for us to support the babies in the womb?”

Del. Jason Miyares (R-Virginia Beach), who is running for attorney general primarily on law-and-order issues, did not weigh in on the Texas law on social media. His campaign did not respond to a request for comment on whether he would support similar legislation for Virginia.

Meanwhile, McAuliffe’s statewide ticket mates — Del. Hala S. Ayala (D-Prince William), who is running for lieutenant governor, and Attorney General Mark Herring (D), who is seeking a third term — reiterated their support for abortion rights on Twitter.

The Texas law puts abortion “front and center in the race,” said Bob Holsworth, a veteran Richmond political analyst. “I expected that to occur with Mississippi, but now it’s been really accelerated because of Texas.”

“Clearly, it’s something the Democrats believe will work to their benefit, largely because McAuliffe has been all over this,” Holsworth said, while also noting Youngkin’s more skittish response. “This really will require Youngkin to specify what his position is.”

Republicans pushed a slew of abortion restrictions in 2012 when they controlled the state House of Delegates, Senate and Executive Mansion — including a bill that would have required women seeking abortions to first get an ultrasound.

The measure drew a national backlash when it became clear that in most cases, the procedure would require an invasive, vaginal probe. After getting skewered by late-night comics and “Saturday Night Live,” Republicans modified the bill to mandate an abdominal ultrasound instead, but for years afterward, statewide Democratic candidates successfully invoked it as proof that the GOP was waging a “war on women.” That rallying cry faded only as Trump emerged as a more powerful motivator for suburban women.

Youngkin played up his opposition to abortion ahead of a highly competitive seven-way Republican nominating convention. And at his victory party in May, he told his supporters: “Friends, together, all of us, we will protect the life of every Virginia child, born and unborn.”

He went quiet on the topic soon after that, declining to say what abortion restrictions he would pursue if elected.

Sunday Morning Male Beauty


The Dishonesty of Joe Manchin

Hurricane Ida and other weather events should make it clear that climate change has arrived as a reality, not just some future threat years away from us.  Infrastructure investment and funding for programs to address climate change, even if inadequately, should be a priority.  Yet we see Sen. Joe Manchin - reportedly the recent recipient of a large corporate lobbying campaign - wants to gut cliamte related portions of the reconciliation bill so that corporations and the ultra wealthy do not need to pay more in taxes even as they amass a larger and larger share of America's overall wealth.   Manchin's duplicity and the greed of his would be benefactors is off the charts.  Two pieces, one in New York Magazine and one in The Week look at Manchin's dishonesty and the threat he poses to all of us. A onpoint line from The Week article sums up where we are:  "The wealthy aristocrats of Ancien Régime France behaved as Manchin and his rich friends are doing now — furiously preventing reforms that would preserve society because they would require the rich to make small sacrifices."  We all know what happened to many members of the Ancien Régime France (the Russian aristocracy behaved much the same way and ended up losing everything).  First this from New York Magazine:

Manchin’s rationale for demanding a pause is farcical. He cites “runaway inflation” as a reason to wait, when inflation is well below the levels of the 1980s — hardly a time when workers carried home their paychecks in wheelbarrows — and near levels of the mid-aughts. In any case, Biden’s domestic plan would spend roughly one percent of gross domestic product, spread out over a decade and largely, if not entirely, paid for by higher taxes or lower prescription-drug spending, which entirely negates the inflationary effect. (It is only “largely” paid for because Manchin, among other moderate Democrats, objects to many of the tax increases on corporations and the wealthy Biden proposes as pay-fors.)

Manchin seems to be confusing stimulus spending — which jolts the economy into faster levels through deliberate infusions of deficit spending — with permanent social spending increases, whose fiscal and inflationary effect is negated by their financing source.

Even more strangely, Manchin told reporters that the withdrawal from Afghanistan is another predicate for caution — as if ending a $2 trillion war makes it harder, rather than easier, to finance domestic programs.

The greatest danger posed by Manchin’s pause gambit is that it will wreck the carefully negotiated strategy Democratic leaders have crafted. . . . The danger is that this pause sets off a cycle of failure. Wealthy interests are only belatedly mobilizing against the bill now. As Republican lobbyist Liam Donovan notes, the Democrats’ best chance is to move as fast as possible. Delay creates the impression of dysfunction, making Biden and Congress less popular, in turn reducing the popularity of any bill they pass, in turn making Congress more reluctant to support it. Even if Manchin doesn’t want to destroy Biden’s presidency, he may do so by setting off  a vortex of failure he loses the ability to escape.

It is obviously important to take heed of public opinion. But the Biden program does this, combining highly popular tax hikes on the wealthy with highly popular tax credits and broad-based expansions of Medicare and Medicaid. The biggest risk to the bill’s public standing is Manchin and his allies, whose complaints are creating a narrative that the bill is unaffordable Big Government. Manchin himself is generating the public backlash he is warning against.

The piece in The Week looks at Manchin's dishonesty in the context of climate change program funding.  Here are highlights (note how it ends):

There has been a recent change in verb tense with respect to climate change: What was once the future is now the present. Louisiana just got hammered by a hurricane that — in what is becoming a signature characteristic of a warming climate — strengthened very rapidly thanks to super-hot temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico, giving residents barely enough time to evacuate. The remnants of that hurricane then caused flooding all the way from Louisiana to Maine. Philadelphia saw the worst flooding since 1869. The National Weather Service issued the first flash flood warning for New York City in its history. At time of writing, at least 45 people were confirmed dead across the Northeast.

I find it hard to grapple with this reality. Following the science, I have been predicting this kind of thing for many years. But now that climate change is truly undeniably here, and highly unusual if not totally unprecedented weather disasters are hitting on a weekly basis, it is still somehow shocking. I suppose arid scientific predictions will always feel a lot different than one's own city being heavily flooded. It's a reaction that Americans — in particular Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.), who recently launched a broadside against Democrats' $3.5 trillion reconciliation package, which contains a great deal of climate policy — need to get over soon.

Some form of denial must be part of the reason why Manchin is now raising questions about the reconciliation bill, not to mention the giant corporate lobbying campaign that undoubtedly explains his sudden change of heart. The reconciliation bill would — in large part because Manchin himself insisted that it can't raise the deficit — raise taxes on corporations, people making high incomes, and especially wealthy heirs. Obviously corporate interests and the oligarch class don't want that, because no amount of money is ever enough for them.

Very few people are so evil that they can willfully consign their own society to catastrophe for the sake of avoiding a fairly modest tax increase. It's just the common behavior of ultra-privileged humans: When faced with a situation requiring any sacrifice, they make up excuses why it shouldn't have to happen. And they'll keep denying they could be hit by disaster — like a wildly unusual tornado ripping up a wealthy New Jersey suburb — until the rising seas close over their heads.

Manchin is throwing up chaff to try to trim down the bill, if not destroy it completely. It is a duplicitous public relations campaign to protect the bottom lines of his rich friends.

More blinkered, self-defeating selfishness would be hard to imagine. As the dire flooding across the eastern U.S. showed this week, American infrastructure is already desperately in need of upgrades just to deal with the weather disasters happening now, let alone those that will happen if we continue to procrastinate.

Manchin would not only core out most of Biden's climate policy, but also risk blowing up global climate negotiations, which are set to resume soon. If the worst historical emitter can't show that it is at least making some effort, other nations could easily conclude that doing their part would be pointless.

The wealthy aristocrats of Ancien Régime France behaved as Manchin and his rich friends are doing now — furiously preventing reforms that would preserve society because they would require the rich to make small sacrifices. Faced with this despicable betrayal of President Biden and the Democratic Party, it is therefore critical for the party left in the House and Senate to continue to demand that there be no bipartisan infrastructure bill unless reconciliation gets through as well. Even the climate policy in there is seriously inadequate compared to the scale of the problem — and this package is very likely the only reform that is getting passed until 2030 at the earliest.

If it's blocked, Washington should consider what usually happens when political elites are unable to fix disintegrating conditions around them: revolution.