Friday, October 01, 2021

Friday Morning Male Beauty


The Attempt to Discredit Trump’s Russiagate Enemies Is Falling Apart

One of former Attorney General William Barr's many acts that made it clear he viewed himself as Donald Trump's personal attorney  rather than the top law enforcement official for the nation was his appointment of John Dunham to investigate Trump's lie that the entire Russiagate investigation was a "deep state" conspiracy against him.  Fast forward and Dunham's investigation has todate basically found no evidence to support Trump's lie and the one indictment that he has issued appears posed to fall apart if it every were to go to trial.  Indeed, Dunham - who like others (including Barr) on the right appears to be willing to destroy his own reputations to serve Trump - has selectively taken information out of context and totally ignored other information in an attempt to fabricate evidence to support Der Trumpenfuhrer's lies. A piece in New York Magazine looks at Dunham's collapsing investigation.  Here are article highlights:

When Donald Trump’s attorney general appointed John Durham to investigate what Trump insisted was a deep-state conspiracy against him, a question hovered: What exactly was Durham thinking? Durham had a respectable résumé as a prosecutor in a career that did not seem to lead straight into a role as Trump’s Roy Cohn.

Was he simply accepting the role out of diligence and the understanding that, if he found no crimes, he could put Trump’s absurd charges to rest? Or — unlikely but possible — would he uncover real proof of a criminal conspiracy at the FBI to undermine Trump? Or had Durham undergone the same Fox News–induced brain melt that has turned figures like Barr, Giuliani, and many others into authoritarian conspiracy theorists?

In the wake of Durham’s first and perhaps only indictment, we can safely rule out the first two explanations.

Durham’s indictment does not even allege that the FBI committed any wrongdoing. Instead, it charges that the FBI was lied to — by Michael Sussmann, a lawyer who passed on leads about Trump’s ties to Russia that the bureau was unable to verify. Durham’s indictment claims Sussmann committed perjury by denying he was working for the Clinton campaign at the time he brought his information about Trump to the FBI in 2016.

The first weakness in the indictment is that even if every word Durham writes is true, the charge he has amounts to a very, very small molehill. Interested parties uncover crimes all the time. There’s just no reason to believe that Sussmann’s relationship with a law firm working for Clinton would have made any difference to the FBI — which was already investigating Trump’s ties to Russia and which wound up discarding Sussmann’s lead anyway as a dry hole.

Second, the evidence that Sussmann lied to the FBI is extremely shaky. . . . The perjury charge is merely the window dressing in the indictment. The meat of it — the part that has Trump defenders excited — is a narrative laid out by Durham attempting to paint Sussmann and the experts he worked with as liars who smeared Trump. That narrative part does not describe actual crimes, of course. Prosecutors can write whatever they want in their indictment. This one is like a Sean Hannity monologue wrapped around a parking ticket.

And even the “speaking indictment” portion of Durham’s charge is falling apart now. Today, both CNN and the New York Times reported that Durham selectively quoted from emails in order to furnish a completely misleading impression that Sussmann’s researchers lied.

The story here is that a group of computer scientists discovered evidence of communication between a Russian bank server and a Trump property. The computer scientists suspected, but weren’t certain, the server might be used for some form of communication between Trump’s campaign and Russia. (The reason they suspected this, of course, was the broad swath of shady behavior Trump exhibited toward Russia.)

Durham’s indictment asserts that the computer scientists knew the data was innocent but sent it to the FBI anyway. What the Times and CNN reported today is that Durham supported this charge by clipping misleading segments of emails by the scientists when other emails undermined his accusation.

Whatever the truth is of the Alfa Bank matter — the Times reports that the computer scientists still don’t feel satisfied they know the answer — Durham’s case that the scientists knew they were lying is simply a preposterous smear.

Durham’s indictment of Sussmann seems extremely unlikely to result in a prosecution. The rest of it is a story about dishonesty. But the dishonesty lies on the part of Durham himself. His indictment proves only the willingness of many members of the right-wing legal Establishment to corruptly put their powers at the disposal of a liar.

I remain baffled as to why so many are so willing to prostitute themselves to Trump and destroy their reputations and place in history in the process.

Thursday, September 30, 2021

More Thursday Male Beauty


A Conservative on Why We Need to Spend $4 Trillion

Since Ronald Reagan won the presidency in 1980, the overall shift of wealth in Ammerica has been to concentrate more and more of it in the hands of the few.  "Trickle down economics" and tax cuts for the wealthy and large corporations - largely owned by the wealthy - have ballooned the national debt and left many in the working class and middle class struggling to treadwater with little real increase after adjustment for inflation in their incomes since the 1970's.  Worse yet, globalization has reordered the world's economies leaving many in small towns and rural areas with ever declining prospects.  True, they bear some fault for their economic malaise since their bigotry, hostility to those they see as "other," and right wing religion (the three usually go together) make them anathema to progressive businesses seeking to relocate and thus future their economic downward spiral.  That said, things can be done to improve the lot of working class and middle class Americans - which is precisely what the infrastructure bill and buildit back better bill pending in Congress would help accomplish, assuming Joe Manchin, a man from a state that desperately needs these bill passed, and Sen. Siema -, who has a 17% approval rating in her state - don't scuttle both packages.  Surprisingly, a column in the New York Times by a belatedly former Republican and long time GOP appologist urges passage of both bills.  Here are excepts:

I’ve spent the last few weeks in a controlled fury — and I’m not normally a fury kind of guy. Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi and others are trying to pass arguably the most consequential legislative package in a generation, and what did I sense in my recent travels across five states? The same thing I sense in my social media feed and on the various media “most viewed” lists.


Have we given up on the idea that policy can change history? Have we lost faith in our ability to reverse, or even be alarmed by, national decline? More and more I hear people accepting the idea that America is not as energetic and youthful as it used to be.

I can practically hear the spirits of our ancestors crying out — the ones who had a core faith that this would forever be the greatest nation on the planet, the New Jerusalem, the last best hope of earth.

My ancestors were aspiring immigrants and understood where the beating heart of the nation resided: with the working class and the middle class, the ones depicted by Willa Cather, James Agee, Ralph Ellison, or in “The Honeymooners,” “The Best Years of Our Lives” and “On the Waterfront.” There was a time when the phrase “the common man” was a source of pride and a high compliment.

Over the past few decades there has been a redistribution of dignity — upward. From Reagan through Romney, the Republicans valorized entrepreneurs, C.E.O.s and Wall Street. The Democratic Party became dominated by the creative class, who attended competitive colleges, moved to affluent metro areas, married each other and ladled advantages onto their kids so they could leap even further ahead.

There was a bipartisan embrace of a culture of individualism, which opens up a lot of space for people with resources and social support, but means loneliness and abandonment for people without. Four years of college became the definition of the good life, which left roughly two-thirds of the country out.

And so came the crisis that Biden was elected to address — the poisonous combination of elite insularity and vicious populist resentment.

Read again Robert Kagan’s foreboding Washington Post essay on how close we are to a democratic disaster. He’s talking about a group of people so enraged by a lack of respect that they are willing to risk death by Covid if they get to stick a middle finger in the air against those who they think look down on them. They are willing to torch our institutions because they are so resentful against the people who run them.

The Democratic spending bills are economic packages that serve moral and cultural purposes. They should be measured by their cultural impact, not merely by some wonky analysis. In real, tangible ways, they would redistribute dignity back downward. They would support hundreds of thousands of jobs for home health care workers, child care workers, construction workers, metal workers, supply chain workers. They would ease the indignity millions of parents face having to raise their children in poverty.

Biden had it exactly right when he told a La Crosse, Wis., audience, “The jobs that are going to be created here — largely, it’s going to be those for blue-collar workers, the majority of whom will not have to have a college degree to have those jobs.”

In normal times I’d argue that many of the programs in these packages may be ineffective. I’m a lot more worried about debt than progressives seem to be. But we’re a nation enduring a national rupture, and the most violent parts of it may still be yet to come.

These packages say to the struggling parents and the warehouse workers: I see you. Your work has dignity. You are paving your way. You are at the center of our national vision.

This is how you fortify a compelling moral identity, which is what all of us need if we’re going to be able to look in the mirror with self-respect. This is the cultural transformation that good policy can sometimes achieve. Statecraft is soulcraft.

These measures would not solve our problems, obviously. . . . . But we can make it clear that we value people’s choices. For years there was almost an officially approved life: Get a B.A., move to those places where capital and jobs are congregating, even if it means leaving your community, roots and extended family.

Those were not desired or realistic options for millions of people. These packages, on the other hand, say: We support the choices you have made, in the places where you have chosen to live.

That fundamental respect is the key scarcity in America right now.

He's right.  These packages would also rebuild America's infrastructure which increasingly is an embarrassment compared to other advanced nations and help restore jobs and erroded dignity to many Americans. The Democrats need to pass them NOW.

Thursday Morning Male Beauty


The Media Isn't Reporting on Trump Lawyer's Instruction Manual for a Coup

When America's democracy comes to an end - which could be far sooner than many want to believe - one of the big contributors to that frightening day will be the mainstream media.  Thanks to a combination of false equivalency, laziness, and a desire for sensation rather than true investigative reporting, stories that should be on the front page are not told while others that lack true merit are dragged out ad nausea.  One such story that should be seeing wide spread coverage is the one about how one of Donald Trump's lawyers wrote an instruction manual for conducting a coup when Trump lost the 2020 presidential election and commenced the "Big Lie" and other efforts to overhtrow the election results. Full and proper coverage of this story might have less "sex appeal" if you will than squabbling among Democrats or ginning out stories on America's exit from the Afghanistan quagmire, but in the grand scheme of things it is far more important.  A column in the Washington Post calls out the journalistic malpractice underway.  Here are column highlights:

In a normal world, the “Eastman memo” would be infamous by now, the way “Access Hollywood” became the popular shorthand in 2016 for the damning recording of Donald Trump’s bragging about groping women.

But it’s a good bet that most people have never even heard of the Eastman memo.

That says something troubling about how blasé the mainstream press has become about the attempted coup in the aftermath of the 2020 election — and how easily a coup could succeed next time.

The memo, unearthed in Bob Woodward and Robert Costa’s new book, is a stunner. Written by Trump legal adviser John Eastman — a serious Establishment Type with Federalist Society cred and a law school deanship under his belt — it offered Mike Pence, then in his final days as vice president, a detailed plan to declare the 2020 election invalid and give the presidency to Trump.

In other words, how to run a coup in six easy steps.

Pretty huge stuff, right? You’d think so, but the mainstream press has largely looked the other way. Immediately after the memo was revealed, according to a study by left-leaning Media Matters for America, there was no on-air news coverage — literally zero on the three major broadcast networks: ABC, NBC and CBS. Not on the evening newscasts watched by more than 20 million Americans, far greater than the audience for cable news. Not on the morning shows the next day. And when Sunday rolled around, NBC’s “Meet the Press” was the only broadcast network show that bothered to mention it. (Some late-night hosts did manage to play it for laughs.)

[L]argely, it fell upon a handful of opinion writers to provide the appropriate outrage.

“The Horrifying Legal Blueprint for Trump’s War on Democracy” read the headline on Jonathan Chait’s piece in New York magazine’s Intelligencer section. And in the New York Times, columnist Jamelle Bouie took it on with “Trump Had a Mob. He Also Had a Plan.” The Post’s Greg Sergent hammered away at it.

Some national newspapers paid attention, but not much. USA Today with a story; the New York Times with a few paragraphs dropped deep into a sweeping news analysis.

For the most part, the memo slipped past the public — just another piece of flotsam from the wreckage of American society, drifting by unnoticed.

Why wasn’t the Eastman memo treated as what it is: a flashing red alert, signaling that Trump’s allies were (and almost certainly still are) plotting the end of free and fair elections in America?

[T]he former and current network executives I spoke with offered a different view — and largely agreed with decisions to downplay the memo.

For Tom Bettag, the document landed in his “shocked but not surprised” category. A former executive producer for “CBS Evening News” with stints at three other networks who now teaches at the University of Maryland, Bettag saw the story as merely “an unknown lawyer, who says he’s on the Trump legal team and had said Kamala Harris was not a citizen, wrote a crazy memo.”

He echoed the view of one network representative who told me: “After all, it didn’t happen.” In Bettag’s words: “There’s no indication that Pence considered it seriously.”

Others pointed out that there’s so much other news to cover these days: the brewing government shutdown, the aftermath of the Afghanistan troops withdrawal, and of course, the audience-riveting case of Gabby Petito, the 22-year-old woman whose remains were found in Wyoming last week.

You’d think, though, that a few seconds of precious airtime might be given to something as startling as the Eastman memo. In numbered steps subtitled the “January 6 scenario,” it outlined how Pence, charged by the Constitution with counting electoral ballots from the 2020 election on that day, could have simply ignored results from seven states that tipped the presidency to Biden. Pence would effectively throw away millions of votes from Arizona, Pennsylvania and any other state where fraudulent groups of “shadow electors” had challenged Biden’s victory based on no valid legal principle whatsoever.

“The main thing here is that Pence should do this without asking for permission — either from a vote of the joint session [of Congress] or from the Court,” Eastman wrote.

[I]t’s downright bone-chilling to think that this lawyer and legal scholar who was enough of an insider to have a speaking role at Trump’s “Stop the Steal” rally on Jan. 6, had gamed it out like this. (After protests by his colleagues at California’s Chapman University, where he once was the law school dean, Eastman retired.)

But the news coverage wasn’t nearly widespread or prominent enough to make “the Eastman memo” a household name or to strike that legitimate fear into the hearts of citizens. To raise that red alert.

It’s telling that we’ve become so inured to Trump’s flagrant disregard for the will of the electorate. As Robert Kagan wrote last week in a grim opinion piece that did seem to break through the noise, a Trump-fueled constitutional crisis is already upon us, although the warning signs “may be obscured by the distractions of politics, the pandemic, the economy and global crises, and by wishful thinking and denial.”

Eastman’s coup hasn’t happened yet. But given the media’s shrug-off, maybe all we have to do is wait.

Very, very frightening.

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

More Wednesday Male Beauty


Democrat "Centrists" Are At the Root of the Problem


As prior posts have made clear, I am losing patience with Congressional Democrats who seem hell bent to defeat the Biden/Harris agenda as they petulently refuse to compromise and, in the case of so-called Centrists won't even tell others waht the want.  Among the worse offenders are Manchin and Sinema, the former in bed with the foissil fuel industry and the latter seemingly in bed with Big Pharma and the wealthy and large corporations (one would think she is a Republican). Meanwhile, the media and some on the political right are casting Democrat gridlock as the fault of progressives. A piece in New York Magazine argues that "centrists, not progressives, are the saboteurs.  I for one am over it and hopefully someone can get a message to both these false centrists and progressives that they need to get bills passed ASAP or I will stop donating to Democrats.  Why help fund a party that will not move legislation forward that benefits the majority of voters?  Here are article highlights:

The impression has taken hold with many people who have moderate inclinations that the Democratic Party is split between moderate pragmatists and left-wing ideologues who refuse to compromise. “There are growing signs the Biden agenda could collapse because too many Democrats have unrealistic expectations and refuse to compromise,” opined one of those research firms that recirculates conventional wisdom for investors. Charlie Sykes, editor of the center-right Bulwark, claims progressive Democrats are “threatening to torpedo the bipartisan bill (and with it the Biden presidency) if they don’t get what they want.”

The truth of the situation at hand is almost precisely the opposite. The people who are willing to compromise and accept half a loaf are the progressives. The ones who refuse to negotiate are the centrists.

Just listen to what the progressives are saying:

“What we have said is that if there is an agreement that the president strikes on this Build Back Better agenda, we will vote for the bipartisan bill, we’re willing to negotiate,” Representative Ro Khanna said on CNN. “The president keeps begging [Senator Kyrsten Sinema], ‘Tell us what you want. Put a proposal forward’ … How do you compromise when Sinema isn’t saying anything?”

Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal: “They need to tell us what they don’t agree with. And we need to be able to actually negotiate it.”

Jayapal, again: “If they don’t tell us what they want to do, which was the president’s message, and if they don’t actually negotiate on the entire bill, then we’re not going to get too close.”

Representative Jim McGovern: “I think a lot of us want to make sure we have an assurance that, in fact, there’s going to be a reconciliation bill.”

They are not making implacable demands. They are begging the centrists to simply negotiate.

The fear hanging over their position is that, once they have their bipartisan infrastructure deal in hand, some decisive number of centrist Democrats — it would take just one in the Senate or four in the House — will take their ball and go home. Nobody knows whether that would actually happen.

But the progressives are hardly imagining this possibility. Over the weekend, the New York Times reported that Sinema “has privately told colleagues she will not accept any corporate or income tax rate increases.” . . . . Sinema also reportedly opposes both Biden’s plan to allow Medicare to negotiate prices with drug companies, and even opposes a scaled-back version designed to be less unacceptable to Big Pharma.

The entire Biden program is financed through a combination of taxing the wealthy through higher income or corporate taxes and cutting spending by negotiating lower drug prices. So if Sinema actually holds the positions indicated by these reports, she would kill Biden’s program outright. Biden’s domestic legacy is only going to be as large as its financing sources, and if Sinema opposes all those sources, the size of the bill she ultimately supports isn’t going to be $3.5 trillion or $2 trillion or $1.5 trillion, but zero.

Business lobbyists are very clearly hoping to pass to pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill — which, at the insistence of Republicans, does not make any wealthy sources pay even a cent — and then kill Build Back Better.

Since Sinema is holding fundraisers with the same lobbyists who are pushing to pass infrastructure and kill Build Back Better, it seems at least possible that she is onboard with their strategy. . . . Progressives can’t be blamed for suspecting a betrayal, especially when she refuses to give even the barest reassurance.

We have grown accustomed to showdowns between ideologues and pragmatists, mainly within the GOP.

But in this case, the progressives are begging the centrists to meet them somewhere in the middle. The centrists — really, just the tiny handful of holdouts — are refusing to negotiate, threatening to torpedo the entire Biden presidency if they don’t get exactly what they want.

One thing that has enabled their tactics to succeed is the knee-jerk assumption by people with moderate inclinations to attribute reasonableness to any self-styled centrist posture. But nothing could be less reasonable than refusing to negotiate or articulate your position.

Frankly, I'd like to see both Manchi and Sinema defeated in their next primary or general election. 

Wednesday Morning Male Beauty


Do Democrats Have the Courage of Liz Cheney?

I never thought the day would come when I would view Lize Cheney - daughter of a man I referred to as Emperor Palpatine in many past posts - as principled and courageous, especially in comparison to numerous Demorcats in Congress who seem obsessed with engaging in a circular firing squad (and playing into the hands of anti-democracy Republicans) rather than advance much needed legislation on a compromise basis. I disagree with Liz Cheney on a host of issues - she finally admitted she was wrong on same sex marriage - but she has shown a willingness to risk it all in opposing Trump and those who seek to basically end American democracy as we have known it.  A column in the New York Times looks at Cheney's daring and contrasts it with that of the likes of AOC and Joe Manchin who seemingly cannot see the forest for the trees and appear to be teeing up for Republicans to win (or steal) the 2022 mid-terms and the 2024 elections.  To say I am livid with these Democrats doesn't begin to fully describe my anger.  Here are column excerpts:

A few months ago I had the chance to have a long conversation with Wyoming Representative Liz Cheney. While we disagreed on many policy issues, I could not have been more impressed with her unflinching argument that Donald Trump represented an unprecedented threat to American democracy. I was also struck by her commitment to risk her re-election, all the issues she cares about, and even physical harm, to not only vote for Trump’s impeachment but also help lead the House investigation of the Jan. 6 insurrection.

At the end of our conversation, though, I could only shake my head and ask: Liz, how could there be only one of you?

She could only shake her head back.

After all, a recent avalanche of news stories and books leaves not a shred of doubt that Trump was attempting to enlist his vice president, his Justice Department and pliant Republican state legislators in a coup d’état to stay in the White House based on fabricated claims of election fraud.

Nearly the entire G.O.P. caucus (save for Cheney and Representative Adam Kinzinger, who is also risking his all to join the Jan. 6 investigation, and a few other Republicans who defied Trump on impeachment) has shamelessly bowed to Trump’s will or decided to quietly retire.

They are all complicit in the greatest political sin imaginable: destroying faith in our nation’s most sacred process, the peaceful and legitimate transfer of power through free and fair elections. Looking at how Trump and his cult are now laying the groundwork — with new laws, bogus audits, fraud allegations and the installation of more pliant state election officials to ensure victory in 2024 no matter what the count — there is no question that America’s 245-year experiment in democracy is in real peril.

Our next presidential election could well be our last as a shining example of democracy. . . . This is Code Red. And that leads me to the Democrats in Congress.

I have only one question for them: Are you ready to risk a lot less than Liz Cheney did to do what is necessary right now — from your side — to save our democracy?

Because, when one party in our two-party system completely goes rogue, it falls on the other party to act. Democrats have to do three things at the same time: advance their agenda, protect the integrity of our elections and prevent this unprincipled Trump-cult version of the G.O.P. from ever gaining national power again.

It is a tall order and a wholly unfair burden in many ways. But if Cheney is ready to risk everything to stop Trump, then Democrats — both moderates and progressives — must rise to this moment and forge the majorities needed in the Senate and House to pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill (now scheduled for a Thursday vote in the House), a voting rights bill and as much of the Build Back Better legislation as moderate and progressives can agree on.

If the Democrats instead form a circular firing squad, and all three of these major bills get scattered to the winds and the Biden presidency goes into a tailspin — and the Trump Republicans retake the House and Senate and propel Trump back into the White House — there will be no chance later. Later will be too late for the country as we know it.

So, I repeat: Do Representative Josh Gottheimer, the leader of the centrist Democrats in the House, and Representative Pramila Jayapal, leader of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, have the guts to stop issuing all-or-nothing ultimatums and instead give each other ironclad assurances that they will do something hard?

Yes, they will each risk the wrath of some portion of their constituencies to reach a compromise on passing infrastructure now and voting rights and the Build Back Better social spending soon after — without anyone getting all that they wanted, but both sides getting a whole lot. It’s called politics.

And are centrist Democratic Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema ready to risk not being re-elected the way Liz Cheney has by forging a substantive compromise to ensure that consequential election integrity, infrastructure and Build Back Better measures go forward? Or are they just the Democratic equivalents of the careerist hacks keeping Trump afloat — people so attached to their $174,000 salaries and free parking at Reagan National Airport that they will risk nothing?

And, frankly, is the Biden White House ready to forge this compromise with whatever pressures, Oval Office teas, inducements, pork and seductions are needed? It could energize the public a lot more by never referring to this F.D.R.-scale social reform package as “reconciliation” and only calling it by its actual substance . . . .

The progressives need to have the courage to accept less than they want. They also could use a little more humility by acknowledging that spending trillions of dollars at once might have some unintended effects — and far more respect for the risk-takers who create jobs, whom they never have a good word for. If Biden’s presidency is propelled forward and seen as a success for everyday Americans, Democrats can hold the Senate and House and come back for more later.

The moderates need to have the courage to give the progressives much more than the moderates prefer. Income and opportunity gaps in America helped to produce Trump; they will be our undoing if they persist.

But I fear common sense may not win out. As Minnesota Democratic Representative Dean Phillips (a relative) remarked to me after Tuesday’s caucus of House Democrats: “The absence of pragmatism among Democrats is as troubling as the absence of principle among Republicans.”

Democrats are their own worse enemies and they are foolishly heading the country toward an autocracy if they do not get their heads out of their asses.

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

More Tuesday Male Beauty


Republicans Are Literally Dying to Uphold a Distorted Political Stance

One of the most noteworhty aspect of the Covid-19 pandemic is the manner in which a significant number of Republicans have chosen to literally sicken and die in order to demonstrate their fealty to Donald Trump, a/k/a Der Trumpenfuhrer, and/or talking heads of the right wing media.  The irony is that Republican governors and GOP legislatures are actively striving to disenfranchise minority voters and others they view as likely Democrat voters at the same time they are pushing policies - e.g., banning mask and/or vaccine mandates - that are killing members of their own base. Equally mind boggling is the failure of many in the GOP base to recognize that their behavior is self-destructive and counter to basic common sense.  It's hard to believe that all the Republicans choosing self-harm are all science rejecting, ignorance embracing evangelicals, One can't help but wonder if future studies won't be done to try to explain such insane behavior.  A piece at CNN looks at the phenomenon and lays much of the blame at the feet of Trump, Fox News, and other far right "news" outlets.  Here are highlights:

In his victory speech after the 2020 election, Joe Biden said this: "I pledge to be a president who seeks not to divide, but to unify. Who doesn't see red and blue states, but a United States."

Roughly nine months into his presidency, however, red states and blue states have widely diverged on what should be the least political of issues: Vaccination rates for Covid-19.

Dubbing it "Red Covid," The New York Times' David Leonhardt writes: 

"The political divide over vaccinations is so large that almost every reliably blue state now has a higher vaccination rate than almost every reliably red state. ... Because the vaccines are so effective at preventing serious illness, Covid deaths are also showing a partisan pattern. Covid is still a national crisis, but the worst forms of it are increasingly concentrated in red America."

New data from Gallup provides stark numbers to back up Leonhardt's claim. More than 9 in 10 self-identified Democrats (92%) report that they have had at least one dose of one of the three vaccines for Covid-19. That number among Republicans? Just 56%. 

That's a stunning data point that tells a very clear story: there are Republicans who are getting seriously ill -- and even dying -- as some sort of distorted political stance. 

How did we get here? There's no single person to blame, but in my mind it's quite clear that former President Donald Trump and Fox News bear the lion's share of the responsibility.

Trump spent the first 16 months of the pandemic doing everything he could to downplay it. He insisted that the virus was "going to disappear." He was openly dismissive of mask-wearing; . . Trump also worked to make the debate about masking -- and steps to mitigate Covid-19 more generally -- about attempts by Democratic leaders to limit your freedoms. Lockdown orders were an abrogation of your rights -- as opposed to short-term attempts to slow community spread of the virus. Masks were nanny government trying to tell you what to do. 

Meanwhile, Fox News served as a sort of force multiplier for the politicization of the virus. That charge was led by prime-time hosts Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham, both of whom sought to cast the vaccine debate in terms of freedom abridged rather than a public health good. "We're not saying there is no benefit to the vaccine -- there may well be profound benefits to the vaccine," Carlson said over the summer, ignoring the scads of evidence that all three vaccines available for Covid-19 are not only safe but hugely effective in preventing serious illness and death from the virus. Carlson also regularly features anecdotal evidence of a person -- or persons -- with an adverse reaction to the Covid-19 vaccine, absent the context that the vaccine is, in the main, perfectly safe. 

The result of all of this misinformation and politicization of Covid-19 is stark. The 12 states with the highest case rate for every 100,000 people are all run by Republican governors. The 13 states with the highest hospitalization rate per 100,000 residents are all run by Republican governors. The 15 states with the highest percentage of deaths per 100,000 are all run by Republican governors. 

We are not just divided along political lines now. Our political divisions have created two entirely different Americas: One in which the vast majority of people are vaccinated and hospitalizations and deaths are low, and the other where the coronavirus continues to ravage the population.

Tuesday Morning Male Beauty


Future Right Wing Political Violence Feels Inevitable

With Senate Republicans signally yesterday that they will allow the United States to default on its debts as a means to harm Democrats - never mind the financial and social chaos that would ensue - it is clear that America has reached a point where decency, responsibility and concern for the good of the nation are no longer values on the right side of the political asile. Worse yet, with the continued GOP promotion of the "Big Lie" the threat of violence from the far right and its enablers and political prostitutes (think Mitch McConnell and all but a few Congressional Republicans), the future looks increasingly scary.  Indeed, in my view, it is past time the filibuster be ended, at least on a number of critial issues such as the debt ceiling and voting rights issues.  A column in the Washington Post looks at the growing threat of violence and, perhaps short sightedly - the author remained a GOP apologist long after it should have been obvious the party had become anti-democratic and willing to subvert the Constitution - suggests non-violent opposition is the correct way to meet the threat.  While not one to condone violence, I fear this view may prove to be naive.  Here are column excerpts: 

American politics — as some dissident Republicans and state election officials will tell you — is already conducted in the shadow of violence.

The threat of violence was always a subtext of Trumpism, usually involving the encouragement of assault against hostile protesters or the refusal to clearly repudiate brutality by Trump supporters. This could sometimes be dismissed as barroom bravado. But we entered a new phase when former president Donald Trump explicitly sided with the political violence of Jan. 6 and declared that our current government is illegitimate.

The baseless claim of electoral fraud, in particular, has acted as an accelerant to anger. Trump consistently claims that something — power, respect or social dominance — has been stolen from his supporters and that only “strength” will reclaim it. The consequences of failure, Trump declares, would be apocalyptic: the loss of America itself. . . . . This is the cultivation of desperation.

It is little wonder that about two-fifths of Republicans (in a poll this year) expressed an openness to political violence under certain circumstances. People in this group are not being stigmatized. They have the effective endorsement of a former president and likely GOP presidential nominee in 2024.

This line of argument is dangerously congruent with one view of the Second Amendment on the right that long preceded Trump — a belief that the ownership of guns is the last resort in the defense of liberty. This acts as constitutional permission for the use of force against fellow citizens.

It’s difficult to game out what this means for the future. Would some on the hard left respond in kind, as a stigmatized few are already doing? This reaction is not in any way equivalent to what we’ve seen on the right, mainly because the political party of the left remains committed to liberal democracy. But I suspect a marginally thicker slice of the left would be inclined to “punch a Nazi” during a second Trump term.

At the least, these trends threaten to turn any national trauma or trial — a disputed election, an unjust police shooting, a resented judicial ruling, a bitter political convention — into an occasion for violence. And a great many elections lost by Republicans will be disputed, given the GOP’s philosophic embrace of unconstitutional bad-loserism.

I suspect that a second term for Trump would accelerate all these trends. In Trump’s first term, federal law enforcement officers were given license to rough up peaceful protesters (as in Lafayette Square). Trump used violent supporters to threaten and intimidate members of Congress (and his own vice president). High-ranking military officials feared Trump might try to use the armed forces for unconstitutional purposes. Is there any doubt that Trump, empowered by reelection and accustomed to the use of power, would use times of crisis — particularly civil disorder — as justifications for broader violence?

The most important response to these unnerving trends is political mobilization to prevent Republicans from taking control of the House, Senate and presidency. But it is possible, in the natural rhythms of politics, for an unfit party to take control. So it is premature, but not irrational, to ask: What might opposition to an illiberal Trump regime look like?

A Democratic friend provides this answer: “Only an organized and ongoing mass nonviolent protest and resistance movement would be the needed counterweight.”

The advantages of this approach are the same that the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. defined in “Stride Toward Freedom,” his account of the Montgomery bus boycott. King argued that nonviolence allows people to fight evil without resorting to violence; . . . . King argued that an active but nonviolent resistance is not merely possible; it is the only strategy that preserves the possibility of future unity.

I doubt such leadership will emerge from politics. In our society it could come from anywhere: sports, entertainment, literature, music. We are left to hope that someone feels the call.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that," King said. "Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. The beauty of nonviolence is that in its own way and in its own time it seeks to break the chain reaction of evil.”

 Be very, very afraid for the future.

Monday, September 27, 2021

More Monday Male Beauty


Biden/Harris: The Media Needs to Stop Focusing on The Negative

As I have often vented, I have little patience with much of the news media which engages in false ludicrous equivalency, fails to call ot blatant Republican lies for what they are and engaged in the equivalent of journalistic fellatio of Donald Trump for most of his misrule in the White House and only grew enough spine to call out Trump's lies after the Jauary 6, 2021, insurrection/coup attempt. Indeed, in their quest to generate controversy and sensation many journalists make tawdry whores look virtuous in comparison.  Rather than protecting the nation and democracy, these people harm it and play into the hands of the Republicans and others who would overthrow the U.S. Constitution. I am not the only one fed up with much of the media's focus on the negative when it comes to the Biden/Harris administration be it Afghanistan - as they ignore the box the Trump regime put Biden in and the idiocy of the original invasion of that country - immigration, or domestic issues.  A column in the Washington Post calls outs those who obsess with focusing on the negative while ignoring the positive achievements (many of the same media types are doing the same in the context of Virginia's gubernatorial race).  Here are column highlights:

No matter what happens in Congress over the next few days, the one thing even President Biden’s harshest critics cannot say is that his administration’s accomplishments are inconsequential. This is a White House that does big things at home and abroad.

It is possible, but unlikely, that the week could end with the Democratic Party doing its best impersonation of a smoking ruin. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) might fail to craft a version of Biden’s $3.5 trillion “human infrastructure” package that moderate Democrats will vote for. And progressive House Democrats, in response, might torpedo the $1 trillion “hard infrastructure” bill that the Senate has already approved.

I doubt this Armageddon scenario will occur, since the argument is less about substance than about arithmetic — congressional arithmetic at that, which is much more flexible than the addition and subtraction we learned in school. The numbers involved are so humongous that Pelosi and Schumer ought to be able to find some sweet spot that lets both moderates and progressives claim victory. No Democrat should see failure as an option.

Anyone who might have imagined that our oldest president would mostly be a soothing corrective after the insanity of the Donald Trump years was dead wrong.

Look at what Biden and Vice President Harris have done to reshape U.S. foreign policy — an area in which presidents largely have free rein. Previous administrations talked the talk. Biden is walking the walk in ways that have both our allies and our adversaries struggling to keep up.

The Obama administration talked for years about ending the war in Afghanistan and withdrawing American forces, but ended up agreeing to a troop surge instead. The Trump administration signed a bad deal, incompetently negotiated, to bring U.S. troops home but got booted out of office before being able to follow through. Biden could have tried to get out of the bargain. Instead, he went ahead and fulfilled it. No, the withdrawal wasn’t pretty. But it happened. . . . .

Biden and Harris are pulling off a shift in our foreign policy orientation that has been talked about for more than a decade — a “pivot” or “tilt” away from our traditional focus on Europe and the Middle East toward the region now called the Indo-Pacific, with an eye toward the rise of China as a competing superpower.

Biden secretly negotiated a new defense pact with Australia and Britain that will give the Australians nuclear-powered submarine technology as a check on China’s growing naval power. He hosted the first in-person summit of the Quad strategic alliance — the United States, Japan, Australia and India — in another initiative aimed at containing China’s regional ambitions. He sent Harris to Southeast Asia to shore up U.S. ties with Singapore and Vietnam.

Still, it is true that Biden’s political standing and the Democrats’ electoral prospects will probably turn on the success or failure of his domestic agenda. You can love that vision or hate it, but the one thing it can’t be called is modest.

The passage of the Affordable Care Act under President Barack Obama was the most significant shift in the role of government in this country since the Reagan administration. Now, however, Biden is seeking a much more dramatic sea change.

He wants to help Americans buy electric cars and build charging stations to make them practical as a way of fighting climate change. He wants high-speed trains on some heavily traveled routes. He wants everyone to have broadband Internet access. He wants to provide free or subsidized child care and 12 weeks of guaranteed paid family leave. He wants to offer free preschool for all 3- and 4-year-olds and two free years of community college. He wants to expand Medicare benefits and reduce prescription drug costs.

And that’s what the nation needs after four decades of trickle-down economics that created massive inequality and allowed the nation’s physical infrastructure and human infrastructure to fall behind.

Biden and Harris have been in office for just eight months. Deduct style points from their score if you like. Acknowledge the failures on issues such as immigration. But they swing for the fences. And they get things done.

A separate post will address AOC and other leftist Democrats who would torpedo everything in the manner of a petulant child and harm the nation in the process.

Monday Morning Male Beauty


Sunday, September 26, 2021

Sunday Morning Male Beauty


Republican Voter Suppression Laws Hurt Whites

As the Republican Party has seen its support concentrate incrasingly in circles of reactionary elder whites, Christofascists, white supremamcists and conspiracy theory devotees, efforts have been made by Republican controlled legislatures to restrict access and ease of voting to freeze out minority voters, college students, and those ther GOP base views as "other."  Long term, the effort may still fail as the GOP base dies off and shrinks further.   In both the the short term and long term, the effort also harms whites - especially the working class - as it not only makes voting more difficult and leads to a host of other adverse effects, including at the moment soaring death rates from Covid-19 which are concentrated in the vaccine refusers of the GOP base. The pervese version of "freedom" being pushed by governors like those of Texas, Florida and Mississippi - and Virginia's GOP gubernatorial candidate, Glenn Youngkin - is literally killing members of the party base.  A lengthy piece at CNN looks at how the GOP voter suppressions efforts is and will harm its white base.  Here are excerpts:

Critics often describe the wave of voter restriction laws sweeping the nation as a new version of Jim Crow, the 19th century minstrel figure whose stage name became the symbol of a brutal era of Black oppression.

But if you want to understand how these new voter restriction laws also oppress White people, it's more useful to invoke another cultural figure: Wile E. Coyote. 

This comparison is not designed to make light of voter suppression, which is an alarming attack on our democracy. It's to make a point that doesn't get emphasized enough as Democrats approach a crucial stretch in their efforts to pass a new voting rights bill: White people -- not just people of color -- have been some of the biggest victims of voter suppression tactics.

The Republican Party's crusade to make voting more difficult isn't just morally wrong. It's folly. By obsessively chasing the phantom of widespread voter fraud, they are actually hurting their own base of White voters. 

Some of the more obvious boomerang effects of these laws have already been noted. Voter restrictions anger and mobilize voters of color. They make it more difficult for older, rural White citizens to vote. And they discourage some White voters from even participating in elections.

Even some GOP leaders are now warning that restrictive voting laws are hurting their base. One commentator went further, saying Republicans are "inadvertently suppressing their own voters." 

The [California recall] effort to replace Newsom failed, in part, because Elder and other GOP leaders discouraged many of their own supporters from voting by alleging voter fraud in the lead-up to the election, Mathis said in a column in The Week. This was the same dynamic that led to Democrats winning Georgia and control of Congress in the last presidential election, Mathis noted.

"We now have a likely answer to the question of what will happen if Republicans keep manufacturing charges of 'voter fraud' every time they lose an election: Fewer Republican voters will go to the polls," Mathis said. 

But there are other, less apparent reasons why voter suppression tactics not only harm White people but can literally cost them their lives. 

Take, for example, recent comments by Gov. Tate Reeves of Mississippi, which has the highest death rate for Covid-19 deaths in the US and one of the worst vaccination rates in the country.

Reeves says every Covid death breaks his heart but told CNN he still opposes President Joe Biden's vaccine mandates because they are "tyrannical." 

The fact that Mississippi has some of the nation's most restrictive voting laws and an overall health system that's ranked dead last in the nation may seem unrelated. But some say they're not, because restrictive voting laws lead to voters electing less competent political leaders who don't respond to the needs of all their constituents. 

That's what Alex Keena, a political scientist, discovered while researching a book he co-authored, "Gerrymandering the States: Partisanship, Race, and the Transformation of American Federalism."

"It leads to legislators who are good at getting elected and raising money, but they don't know a lot about government," says Keena, a political science professor at Virginia Commonwealth University. 

This inability to govern can have lethal consequences. Keena says. 

States that enacted partisan gerrymandering -- redrawing congressional districts to favor the Republican party and deprive Black people of voting power -- tended to have higher infant mortality rates, Keena says. They also were more likely to challenge the Affordable Care Act in courts and were generally less responsive to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 than Republican-controlled states that didn't gerrymander, he found. 

There is a phrase that describes what happens to some White voters in states like Mississippi. It's called "Dying of Whiteness" -- the name of a 2019 book by Jonathan M. Metzl that describes a political dynamic where racial, "backlash governance" leads to White voters picking political leaders who enact policies that tend to make them sicker, poorer and more likely to die early by gun suicide. 

This same dynamic is partly why most of the counties in the US with the fewest fully vaccinated people are in Southern states led by GOP governors. 

"When state governments rig the voting rules to suppress the voting power of their opponents, there are measurable decreases in public health and policy outcomes that affect everyone," Keena says.

Republican leaders who seek to restrict voting rights also hurt themselves by turning off young White voters who could make the difference for them in future elections. . . . The best way to ensure that students turn into good citizens who vote in every election is through steps such as placing polling places on every college campus -- something discouraged by many new, restrictive voting laws, she says.

"Make voting easy and accessible to first-time voters, "says Evins, a history professor at Middle Tennessee State University.  "And that is precisely what the voter suppression laws expressly opt not to do," she says. "Instead they limit opportunities, narrow locations and choices."

Voter suppression hurts White people in another, more insidious way. It silences their voice in the political process. 

A famous 2015 study concluded that the US is not a democracy but an oligarchy where the elites, not ordinary voters, determine public policy. That study validated a belief among many lower- and middle-class White voters that politicians listen to wealthy donors but not to them. 

Voter suppression laws make it easier for political leaders to do just that -- favor wealthy people over others, says Lindsey Cormack, an expert on voter suppression and elections at the Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey.

Voter suppression laws "enshrine inequalities" by transforming politics into a pay-to-play system where politicians tune out ordinary voters, she says. 

"Voter suppression laws that make it harder for any poor and middle-class people to vote make it so that members of Congress have less of a reason to listen to the wants of people who are less likely to be able to turn out and vote," Cormack says.

Sadly, too many working class and middle class whites continue to vote for Republicans who support an agenda that favors the rich and which has harmed other white voters over the last four decades. Too many white voters continue to fall for sound bites about race, religion, and the danger of gays and fail to see that it is the GOP which is their true adversary.