Saturday, December 18, 2021

Willful Ignorance and the Omicron Threat to Red America

As Republican controlled state legislatures continue their efforts to disenfranchise minoeity voters, Fox News talking heads, fundamentalist pastors and many national Republicans continue to fan vaccination hesitancy and expose much of the Republican Party base to avoidable illness and death from Covid-19.  It's as if the party leadership and Fox anchors have a suicide pact with the party base except for the fact that most of those leaders and mouth pieces on Fox are themselves vaccinated and are thus cynically gambling with the lives of their contituents and audience for political and ratings advantage.  The moral depravity of these people is truly numbing.  So too is the stupidity of the Republican Party base that both believes this charlatans and seemingly would rather needlessly die rather than have "liberals" and Democrats tell them what to do.  A piece in the New York Times looks at this reality in the face of the surging Omicron variant.  Here are excerpts:

Tucker Carlson could do it. So could Laura Ingraham, Mark Levin or Donald Trump himself.

One of these conservative figures could go on the air and explain that the Omicron variant has placed much of their audience in grave danger. They could remind people that they have been skeptical of vaccines at times — but that Omicron is different. It is so contagious that it may quickly sweep the country.

As they issued this warning, they could still take their usual swipes at the political left, mocking panicky liberals for wearing masks outdoors and forcing children to sit apart in cold schoolyards.

I don’t have any illusions about how likely this scenario is, but I do think that unvaccinated Americans — who are disproportionately Republican — are now in even more danger than a few weeks ago. Omicron seems to be qualitatively more contagious than any earlier variant.

In the U.S., partisanship is the biggest factor determining vaccination rates. If Democratic voters made up their own country, it would be one of the world’s most vaccinated, with more than 91 percent of adults having received at least one shot. Only about 60 percent of Republican adults have done so.

This vaccination gap has created a huge gap in death rates, one that has grown sharply during the second half of the year.

The chart [above] below is based on data from Charles Gaba, a health care analyst who has split the country into 10 equally sized groups. The Trump line refers to the one-tenth of Americans who live in counties that voted most heavily for Trump last year, while the Biden line is the equivalent for the president’s best counties. The line labeled “swing” describes counties where each candidate won at least 45 percent of the votes.

One telling detail is that Covid deaths in both swing counties and heavily Biden counties have not risen over the past two months, even as nationwide case numbers have surged. In heavily vaccinated communities, rising caseloads don’t automatically lead to rising death tolls.

In hundreds of U.S. counties, though, most adults still have not received a Covid vaccine shot. “Just since this summer, 150,000 unvaccinated Americans have needlessly lost their lives despite the widespread availability of vaccines,” Dr. Peter Hotez of the Baylor College of Medicine, in Houston, said yesterday.

Vaccine skepticism stems in part from messages on social media and conservative outlets like Fox News, the Sinclair Broadcast Group and talk radio. . . . . They criticize vaccine mandates, sensationalize rare side effects and describe vaccination as a personal choice. They certainly do not deliver the clear message that scientists and Democratic politicians have: Get vaccinated, please, as soon as possible.

The fact that many of conservative pundits are vaccinated themselves would make a pro-vaccine message from them even stronger. . . . Biden, at the White House yesterday, tried his best, saying, “We are looking at a winter of severe illness and death if you’re unvaccinated.”

[M]illions of adults have no immunity, having been neither vaccinated nor infected. . . . .Finally, Omicron appears to be so contagious that even a modest decline in severity — such as the decline estimated in an early analysis from South Africa — could still lead to a large spike in deaths . . . .

For the unvaccinated, however, the best medical advice is clear: Get a shot that may save your life. The question is whether unvaccinated Americans will hear that message from the voices they trust.

More Saturday Male Beauty


Is America Headed Toward Civil War?

With the holiday season in full swing and most of focused on time with friends and family, it is easy - far too easy - to ignore the crisis America finds itself in as Republicans in many states are working diligently to disenfranchise non-whites and others they believe will vote Democrat and cesspools of lies like Fox News daily work to stock white grievance and hatred.  Sadly, America never seems to learn from the experiences of other nations and clings to a myth of "American exceptionalism" that pretends that we are different and cannot succumb to forces that have undermined other nations and seen once stable nations descend into civil war and acts of terror by insurgents. Meanwhile, an op-ed in the Washington Post by three retired generals makes the case that the U.S. military needs to prepare for an insurrection following the 2024 presidential election and another focused on the findings of an expert on civil wars make the case that American democracy is in grave danger and that up to 39% of Republicans support opposing Democrats by any means, including violence. The current danger stems almost exclusively from Donald Trump and his base of deplorables and Republicans only too willing to prostitute themselves to Trump and the MAGA base,  Far too many Americans do not want to face the reality of this danger - which makes the situation even more critical.  Here are highlights from the op-ed on the findings of the civil war expert )be very afraid):

If you know people still in denial about the crisis of American democracy, kindly remove their heads from the sand long enough to receive this message: A startling new finding by one of the nation’s top authorities on foreign civil wars says we are on the cusp of our own.

Barbara F. Walter, a political science professor at the University of California at San Diego, serves on a CIA advisory panel called the Political Instability Task Force that monitors countries around the world and predicts which of them are most at risk of deteriorating into violence. By law, the task force can’t assess what’s happening within the United States, but Walter, a longtime friend who has spent her career studying conflicts in Syria, Lebanon, Northern Ireland, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Rwanda, Angola, Nicaragua and elsewhere, applied the predictive techniques herself to this country.

Her bottom line: “We are closer to civil war than any of us would like to believe.” She lays out the argument in detail in her must-read book, “How Civil Wars Start,” out in January. “No one wants to believe that their beloved democracy is in decline, or headed toward war,” she writes. But, “if you were an analyst in a foreign country looking at events in America — the same way you’d look at events in Ukraine or the Ivory Coast or Venezuela — you would go down a checklist, assessing each of the conditions that make civil war likely. And what you would find is that the United States, a democracy founded more than two centuries ago, has entered very dangerous territory.”

Indeed, the United States has already gone through what the CIA identifies as the first two phases of insurgency — the “pre-insurgency” and “incipient conflict” phases — and only time will tell whether the final phase, “open insurgency,” began with the sacking of the Capitol by Donald Trump supporters on Jan. 6.

Things deteriorated so dramatically under Trump, in fact, that the United States no longer technically qualifies as a democracy. . . . . Walter writes that the United States is now an “anocracy,” somewhere between a democracy and an autocratic state.

U.S. democracy had received the Polity index’s top score of 10, or close to it, for much of its history. But in the five years of the Trump era, it tumbled precipitously into the anocracy zone; by the end of his presidency, the U.S. score had fallen to a 5, making the country a partial democracy for the first time since 1800.

“We are no longer the world’s oldest continuous democracy,” Walter writes. “That honor is now held by Switzerland, followed by New Zealand, and then Canada. We are no longer a peer to nations like Canada, Costa Rica, and Japan, which are all rated a +10 on the Polity index.”

“A country standing on this threshold — as America is now, at +5 — can easily be pushed toward conflict through a combination of bad governance and increasingly undemocratic measures that further weaken its institutions.”

Others have reached similar findings. The Stockholm-based International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance put the United States on a list of “backsliding democracies” in a report last month. “The United States, the bastion of global democracy, fell victim to authoritarian tendencies itself," the report said. And a new survey by the academic consortium Bright Line Watch found that 17 percent of those who identify strongly as Republicans support the use of violence to restore Trump to power, and 39 percent favor doing everything possible to prevent Democrats from governing effectively.

The question now is whether we can pull back from the abyss Trump’s Republicans have led us to. There is no more important issue; democracy is the foundation of everything else in America. Democrats, in a nod to this reality, are talking about abandoning President Biden’s Build Back Better agenda in favor of pro-democracy voting rights legislation. Republicans will fight it tooth and nail.

The enemies of democracy must not be allowed to prevail. We are on the doorstep of the “open insurgency” stage of civil conflict, and Walter writes that once countries cross that threshold, the CIA predicts, “sustained violence as increasingly active extremists launch attacks that involve terrorism and guerrilla warfare, including assassinations and ambushes.”

It is no exaggeration to say the survival of our country is at stake.

Saturday Morning Male Beauty


Friday, December 17, 2021

More Friday Male Beauty


Laura Ingraham’s and Sean Hannity’s Texts Reveal Fox News’ Depravity

Over the last year several Fox News stars - Jonah Goldberg, Chris Wallace and Shepard Smith - have left the network over what basically comes down to concerns about Fox News' growing moral depravity and the reality that the "news" network is now little more than a propaganda outlet for Donald Trumpand his base of Christofascists, neo-Nazis and white supremacists.  The network bears a huge amount of responsibility for the promotion of the "Big Lie" that the 2020 election was "stolen" and for deliberately fanning racial animosity and hatred in general all apparently in it's quest for money and ratings. That same responsibility falls on its "news" anchors who we now know - thanks to the House Committee investigating the events of January 6, 2021 - knew better but simply did not/do not care to promote the truth.  Like so many Republicans they have chosen to put perceived personal gain over decency, honesty and morality and helped turn the Republican Party into a moral cesspool.  Just as frightening is the reality that a sizable percentage of the citizenry that only gets its "news" from Fox and similarly depraved outlets are not learning the truth about these souless and immoral people.  A piece in The New Republic looks at Fox News' moral depravity.  Here are highlights:

As rioters clashed with police officers and stormed the Capitol on January 6, Fox News hosts Laura Ingraham and Sean Hannity desperately texted then–White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows with a simple message: This had gone too far; Donald Trump had to do something to stop it.

“The president needs to tell people in the Capitol to go home,” Ingraham texted Meadows. “This is hurting all of us. He is destroying his legacy.” Hannity, meanwhile, had more or less the same message: “Can he make a statement, ask people to leave the Capitol,” he texted Meadows. (Hilariously, the president’s son Donald Trump Jr. also texted Meadows with a similar plea, suggesting he had no other way to reach his father than to text his chief of staff.) Fox & Friends host Brian Kilmeade, meanwhile, pleaded with Meadows: “Please get him on TV, destroying everything you’ve accomplished.”

Soon after, Ingraham and Hannity had very different messages for their viewers. Ingraham went on the air that evening and hand-waved away the entire affair, insinuating that the real agitators were antifa infiltrators bent on discrediting the MAGA movement and Donald Trump. . . . Hannity, meanwhile, toed a similar line, telling his viewers, “We also knew that there’s always bad actors that will infiltrate large crowds.”

Behind the scenes, Ingraham and Hannity were clear—and clearly alarmed—about what was actually happening: Trump supporters were storming the Capitol, and the president needed to act to put a stop to what had quickly become a riot. But while under the gaze of the camera lens, they threw in with the rioters themselves, casting doubts and making excuses, hopelessly advancing a reality-defying line that the violence was all some convoluted effort to make Trump supporters look bad.

And that has been their line ever since: On their respective programs, Hannity and Ingraham have repeatedly cast doubt about the seriousness of the January 6 insurrection and suggested that Democratic attempts to uncover what really happened were part of an elaborate political revenge plot.

The texts to Meadows, released on Monday evening during a January 6 committee hearing in which it was recommended that the former chief of staff be held in contempt for failing to testify about documents he had submitted, complicate matters for these Fox luminaries. It is unclear that Hannity and Ingraham knew that their correspondence might one day be made public.

We now know that the Fox News hosts not only knew the seriousness of what was happening on January 6, they acted to try to get Donald Trump to do something to stop it. They have been knowingly lying to their audience about the Capitol insurrection and their attempts to intercede ever since.

Fox News has, over the same period, become a crucial source of misinformation and deceit regarding the riot, as well as the subsequent congressional investigation. This disinformation mission peaked with the network’s promotion of Tucker Carlson’s Patriot Purge—the host’s flamboyant effort to enshrine all of these lies in one place, which is one of the presumed reasons for Fox News Sunday’s Chris Wallace’s decision to depart the network. That two of the network’s biggest stars were pleading with the president to stand down didn’t change the calculus for Fox, and the network’s message remains a well-coordinated deception. The only thing that’s changed is that it’s now focused on the investigation into the events of January 6 as an elaborate political witch hunt. Perhaps we know the reason why!

These hosts nevertheless have some responsibility for what happened that day. Both Ingraham and Hannity spent substantial amounts of time on their programs leading up to January 6 sowing doubts about the legitimacy of the 2020 election.

Ingraham and Hannity may have recoiled from what they saw that day, but they bear responsibility for it. And yet, despite their horror, they have spent the intervening year happily spreading doubt and outrage all the same. They knew better; their texts prove it. They just don’t care.

If one is the least bit informed, there is no way a decent and moral person can support today's Republican Party. If you do support the GOP, the only conclusion can be that you are a racist, neo-Nazi or far right Christian extremist.  No amount of feigned piety or church attendance will change this reality. 

Friday Morning Male Beauty


Thursday, December 16, 2021

More Thursday Male Beauty


Is January 6, 2021 the New Watergate?


A piece in the Washington Post lays out the manner in which Mark Meadows' effort to cover up Donald Trump's coup attempt on January 6, 2021, is rapidly falling apart. Ironically, some of what is making Meadows' effort crumble is documentation and text messages Meadows turned over to the House Committee before deciding to refuse to cooperate.  Even more fun is the fact that many text messages are showing the lie of claims by Fox News mouth pieces and congressional Republicans that the coup attempt and assault on the U.S. Capitol were no big deal.  Moreover, the taxt messages - some of which have beem aloud in the House Committee hearings suggest (i) the senders believed Trump controlled the crowd and could have made the assault stop and (ii) the event was preplanned.  The big questions not yet answered are whether Trump and his acolytes were involved in the planning or, if not initially involved in the planning knew about it and allowed the assault to take place after Trump told the mob he "was with them" as he directed them to the Capitol.  Those of us over a certain age remember the Watergate hearings and how it took time for the investigation to jell and ultimately take down Richard Nixon.  A piece in Salon looks at the parallels and suggests the bottom may yet drop out of the cover up effort for Trump and members of Congress who may well have had involvement.  Here are article excerpts:

It happened twice on Tuesday, and one person was involved both times: Liz Cheney. The House Jan. 6 committee has been moving in the same direction the Watergate investigation moved for a while now, but the thing with Mark Meadows' text messages is what turned the corner. Cheney took center stage the way Sen. Howard Baker gained the spotlight during the Senate Watergate hearings in the summer of 1973 when he asked his famous question: "What did the president know, and when did he know it?"

Baker's question was prompted by the testimony of former White House counsel John Dean, who had just blown the roof off the Senate hearing room when he testified that he discussed the cover-up of the Watergate burglary with Richard Nixon at least 35 times. Cheney's question was apparently prompted by the revelation of a series of texts between former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and several members of Congress on Jan. 6 as the assault on the Capitol was underway. "We know hours passed with no action by the president to defend the Congress of the United States from an assault while we were trying to count electoral votes," Ms. Cheney stated grimly. "Mr. Meadows's testimony will bear on a key question in front of this committee: Did Donald Trump, through action or inaction, corruptly seek to obstruct or impede Congress's official proceeding to count electoral votes?"

At the time they asked their questions, Baker and Cheney had access to more information than that which was provided to the public. Dean had been questioned for days by the Watergate committee's staff of lawyers and investigators before he took the oath and began his testimony in full view of the entire country — the hearings were being covered live by all three major television networks, something impossible to imagine today. 

In the case of Mark Meadows, staff lawyers and investigators for the Jan. 6 committee have interviewed, under oath, some 300 witnesses and gone through tens of thousands of pages of evidence that has been provided to the committee. At the time Cheney asked her bombshell question on the floor of the House on Tuesday, we had been informed that Meadows exchanged texts with several Fox News hosts as well as Donald Trump Jr., all of whom were trying to get Meadows to influence the president to call off the assault on the Capitol. Cheney read several texts written by lawmakers who were cowering in their offices off the floors of the House and Senate chambers trying to convince Meadows to do the same thing. 

[H]er question indicates that at least some of the testimony they have taken from witnesses, and other texts she has seen from lawmakers, indicate that the committee has concluded there was a conspiracy between Donald Trump and lawmakers from one or both sides of the Capitol to disrupt the counting of electoral ballots and possibly to influence several battleground states to change their slates of electors from Joe Biden to Trump.

All of that is speculation at this point, but it's important to remember that investigations like Watergate and the assault on the Capitol largely don't unfold in the light of day. Here's how the New York Times framed it on Wednesday: "In closed-door interviews held in a nondescript federal office building near the Capitol, Ms. Cheney has emerged as a leader and central figure on the panel, known for drilling down into the details of the assignment she views as the most important of her political career. She is well-versed in the criminal code and often uses language borrowed from it to make clear she believes the former president and others face criminal exposure." . . They've gathered far more information than they've made public, and late on Tuesday they announced they will begin holding hearings in January. 

But I think we can begin to see the outlines of where they're headed in the question Cheney asked during the debate over Meadows' contempt citation. What we know publicly right now is that the assault on the Capitol was planned in advance and organized at least in part by several right-wing militia groups, including the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers, possibly with the help of figures like Steve Bannon and Roger Stone. Both of them have been subpoenaed by the committee and one of them, Bannon, has already been found in contempt of Congress and is facing federal charges for refusing to testify. 

We knew fairly early on that the Watergate break-in of the Democratic Party headquarters was planned by the burglars themselves, assisted by figures on the edges of the Nixon campaign like Howard Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy. What we didn't know was whether the conspiracy reached into the White House and involved the president, Richard Nixon. 

The White House tapes would reveal the truth about that conspiracy, and it's beginning to look like the Meadows text messages, along with other evidence gathered by the Jan. 6 committee, will reveal a similar White House connection to the assault on the Capitol. The break-in at the Watergate was a crime, and so was the break-in at the Capitol. Covering up the planning and organization behind Watergate turned out to be a crime that brought down a president. It's looking like covering up the same kind of conspiracy involving the assault on the Capitol will turn out to be yet another crime, one that may bring down several members of Congress, perhaps to face federal charges for a crime that Liz Cheney has already named out loud. 

Things are getting interesting, folks. The assault on the Capitol is being Watergated.

Thursday Morning Male Beauty


Wednesday, December 15, 2021

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The Exodus From Religion Accelerates

In addition to the Republican Party's opposition to methods of fighting Covid - which is literally disproportionately killing members of the GOP base, the other Republican agenda item that makes no long term sense from a political perspective is the embrance of far right "Christians" who are best defined by their hatred of others even as the number of "Nones" - the number of those with no religion (now at 29% of the population) surges in America. Even more confounding as to what Republicans are doing is the fact that the modern day Pharisee behavior and hate-filled and unwelcoming behavior of the "Christians" embraced by the GOP is cited as one of the leading causes for individuals walking away from religion.  As a former Republican I remain baffled by today's GOP's lack of a long term survival plan save for perhaps killing democracy itself so that the support of a majority of Americans no longer matters.  A piece at ABC News looks at the acceleration of the numbers of Americans who are washing their hands of religion entirely or at least organized religion.  (Within this larger background it is also telling that studies have found that (i) atheists have a higher level of what's ethical than conservative Christians and (ii) children raised in conservative Christian homes are the more likely to be cruel to others)  Here are story highlights: 

Nathalie Charles, even in her mid-teens, felt unwelcome in her Baptist congregation, with its conservative views on immigration, gender and sexuality. So she left.

“I just don’t feel like that gelled with my view of what God is and what God can be,” said Charles, an 18-year-old of Haitian descent who identifies as queer and is now a freshman at Princeton University. “It wasn’t a very loving or nurturing environment for someone’s faith.”

After leaving her New Jersey church three years ago, she identified as atheist, then agnostic, before embracing a spiritual but not religious life.

The path taken by Charles places her among the religiously unaffiliated -- the fastest-growing group in surveys asking Americans about their religious identity. They describe themselves as atheists, agnostics or “nothing in particular.”

According to a survey released Tuesday by the Pew Research Center, this group — commonly known as the “nones” — now constitutes 29% of American adults. That’s up from 23% in 2016 and 19% in 2011.

“If the unaffiliated were a religion, they’d be the largest religious group in the United States,” said Elizabeth Drescher, an adjunct professor at Santa Clara University who wrote a book about the spiritual lives of the nones.

The religiously unaffiliated were once concentrated in urban, coastal areas, but now live across the U.S., representing a diversity of ages, ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds, Drescher said.

The growth of the nones in the U.S. has come largely at the expense of the Protestant population in the U.S., according to the new Pew survey. It said 40% of U.S. adults are Protestants now, down from 50% a decade ago.

Among the former Protestants is Shianda Simmons, 36, of Lakeland, Florida, who began identifying as an atheist in 2013.

She grew up as a Baptist and attended church regularly; she says she left mainly because of the church’s unequal treatment of women.

Another advocate for the nones is Kevin Bolling, who grew up in a military family and served as a Roman Catholic altar boy. In college, he began to question the church’s role, and grew dismayed about its position on sexuality after he came out as gay.

He’s now executive director of the Secular Student Alliance, which has more than 200 branches in colleges and schools nationwide. The chapters, he said, serve as havens for secular students or those questioning their faith.

“I think this generation can be the first generation to be majority non-religious versus majority religious,” he said.

Being Catholic also was a big part of Ashley Taylor’s upbringing -- she became an altar server at 9. Now 30, she identifies as religiously unaffiliated.

“It just means finding meaning and maybe even spirituality without practicing a religion …. pulling from whatever makes sense to me or whatever fits with my values,” she said.

Growing up near Boston, Marston attended a Congregational church with his family – he remembers Bible study, church-sponsored dances, the itchiness of his flannel trousers while attending Sunday services.

Through high school and college, he “drifted away” from Christian beliefs and in his 30s began a serious, long-lasting journey into spirituality while in rehab to curb his alcoholism.

“Spirituality is a soul-based journey into the heart, surrendering one’s ego will to a higher will.” he said. “We’re looking for our own answers, beyond the programming we received growing up.”

Given the wars and bloodshed religion has spawned over the centuries - and continues to generate - I see the decline of religion as a net positive. 

Wednesday Morning Male Beauty


Tuesday, December 14, 2021

More Tuesday Male Beauty


Youngkin's Precarious Position of Rewarding the Far-Right

Glenn Youngkin ran a very good campaign if the truth and honesty are not a consideration.  One of the truths Youngkin sought to obscure was his strong ties to extremists in the Virginia far right, especially Christofascist organizations like The Family Foundation and Family Research Council, the latter being a certified hate group and the former clearly deserving such a certification.  Both groups have trafficked in lies and disinformation for decades and Youngkin patterned much of his campaign on the deceptive tactics regularly employed by both groups.  The backing of both likely were what won him the GOP nomination and helped turn out extremist voters.  Now both - as well as other far right groups will want their reward for putting him in office.  The down side and danger for Youngkin is that the agenda of both organizations that have white supremacist antecedents, are hysterically anti-abortion and anti-gay, and demand special rights for far right Christians - using that label losely since these people threw Christ's social gospel down the tilet years ago - is radioactive among suburban voters.  Please these factions and alienate suburban voters. A column in the Washington Post looks at Youngkin's precarious position in this reggard.  Here are excerpts:

Election outcomes create expectations that the victors will reward those who got them there — through legislation, patronage and honoring ideological allegiances and IOUs both actual and imagined. That’s raw, transactional politics as old as the republic itself.

It’s not only appropriate but a fundamental duty to make good on objectives pledged to voters during the campaign.

Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin (R) is strongly positioned to make good on some policy-specific pledges that were at the heart of his campaign. Those include cuts to business regulations and state taxes on groceries and gasoline, boosting funding for law enforcement and public education, opening more charter schools and imposing tougher curriculum and testing standards. Some steps he can take unilaterally without legislative approval, such as overhauling state agencies, particularly the problem-plagued Virginia Employment Commission, Department of Motor Vehicles and the Parole Board.

The uneasiness for him comes on issues dear to the Republican far-right that never took center stage in a campaign designed not to alienate suburban moderates but that he signaled tacitly — sometimes explicitly when he assumed he was among friends.

It appears he has calculated the risk/reward ratio and decided to focus first on the kitchen-table reforms that appeal to a broader swath of Virginians. As The Post reported, he’s pushing the culturally freighted issues of abortion restrictions and gun rights to the back burner. That won’t sit well with hardliners and pro-Trump Republicans.

Youngkin will find it far more difficult as governor, with his hands on the levers of power, to appease the GOP far-right without alienating moderates and independentsparticularly White women — than it was during his campaign.

Through Election Day, Youngkin and his advisers had some latitude because they knew conservative hardliners had nowhere else to go other than to vote Republican. . . . . Now the stakes are higher. The hardliners believe that Youngkin owes them, and they will not afford him the indulgence he got as a candidate. He can extend peace offerings by placing hardline conservatives in various at-will agency positions or on state boards and commissions. But those won’t be satisfying substitutes for policy victories on such impassioned causes as gun rights and restricting abortions.

The far-right has shown that it can punish those it views as too willing to work across the aisle or too cordial with the mainstream media it despises.

Consider what befell R. Kirk Cox, a conservative Republican who spent 32 years in the House of Delegates — the last two as speaker — but now finds himself out of politics after finishing fourth in a seven-candidate field for the gubernatorial nomination. The GOP base never forgave Cox for permitting legislation that expanded Medicaid coverage to nearly 400,000 additional Virginians to pass the House in 2018.

Youngkin would be wise to resist pressure from the far-right and not pick fights on those divisive issues — at least for the first half of his term while Democrats still control the Senate. Not only would he likely fail by pushing divisive issues, but those issues could also rally Democrats ahead of the 2022 congressional midterms and the 2023 Virginia legislative elections when control of the Senate will be at stake.

A little forbearance would serve both Youngkin and his party’s restive far-right well.

Youngkin's problem is that for these far right elements, forebearance is an unknown concept.  They likely will not be quiet and will take actions and make statements that wake up suburban voters to the dangers of a Republican occupying the Executive Mansion.

Tuesday Morning Male Beauty


Monday, December 13, 2021

More Monday Male Beauty


The Right's Manufactured "War on Christmas"

It's the holiday season once again and we are yet again hearing both bleating and rage from the far right and the usual suspects among Christofascists groups about the "war on Christmas."  In reality, there is no war on Christmas, but for these right wing elements anything that is perceived as limiting their ability to ride rough shod over others is deemed to be a loss of privilege on their part.  Moreover, the claims that Christmas is under attack are yet another way to stoke white grievance for both political and ratings gain.  The burning of the Fox News Christmas tree by a demented individual is now another excuse to attack religious minorities and bemoan the perceived loss of white Christian dominance over others in society. The claims are ludicrous, of course, given that one cannot escape Christmas if one tried - go out to any store and it's everywhere.  Even in the office/shopping development where I work Christmas music is wafting through the air.  A piece in New York Magazine looks at some of those behind the phony war on Christmas (not surprisingly, Trump and Tucker Carlson are part of the group).  Here are highlights:

Some maniac set fire to the Fox News Christmas tree this week. Fortunately, the perpetrator was tackled within seconds, the fire extinguished, and Fox News personalities were given an early Christmas gift of a fresh new outrage against which to fulminate.

Tucker Carlson had a different, much darker interpretation. “Torching Christmas trees,” he reasoned, “is an attack on Christianity” — not on all religions but on one religion. Having deemed the attack a “hate crime,” he proceeded to reveal a shocking fact: The Biden Justice Department has no statistics to tabulate the number of Christmas-tree burnings that occur in the United States. “The DOJ can tell you precisely how many Qurans were burned in the United States last year, but they don’t keep track of Christmas trees,” he complained. “Why is that? Well, because they could care less.”

I would hypothesize that the DOJ’s failure to monitor Christmas-tree attacks is explained by their extreme rarity and the lack of any connection to a hate-crime motive. Indeed, in this case, police said the incident “didn’t appear to be premeditated or politically motivated” — which is to say, it was not a hate crime at all.

Carlson’s dark insinuation that the Biden DOJ refuses to monitor Christmas-tree burnings implies, absurdly, that the department used to keep track of such incidents under Donald Trump before the liberal Merrick Garland regime decided to start covering up this spate of hate crimes.

But what matters to Carlson is not the facts but the story they purport to reveal: that the liberal authorities are solely concerned with the rights of religious minorities while refusing to lift a finger to stop the ongoing “War on Christmas.”

Most liberals consider the conservative War on Christmas trope so ridiculous on its face that it hardly merits analysis. After all, the ubiquity of Christmas in American life is self-evident; everybody has heard the cliché that Christmas decorations, music, sales, movies, and so on begin earlier every year. But conservatives do not see this as a joke. The lawyer and self-styled intellectual Hugh Hewitt earnestly told Trump in an interview this week that he had been “the best president for Christmas.

The War on Christmas has had a place in Trump’s regular spiel since his candidacy began. Indeed, he’s the first major Republican candidate to make this a part of his message. It’s an idea easily laughed off as shtick, but it needs to be taken seriously as an important part of modern reactionary thought.

I grew up in suburban Detroit. My parents were drawn to what was reputed to be the “best” public-school system in the state and moved into one of the new subdivisions that were breaking ground in the 1970s. When my brother and I started elementary school, the curriculum in December was so focused on Christmas our parents pulled us out of school for most of the month. But as more Jews moved into the district — Jews in Detroit tend to clump together — the school’s Christmas celebrations gave way to more restrained, nonsectarian “holiday” observances with gestures of inclusivity . . . . this had produced a backlash strong enough to inspire the creation of a grassroots group formed to reverse it. The leader of this group was Ronna Romney, whose daughter (also named Ronna) attended my district’s other high school. . . .

Ronna had married a son of former Michigan governor George Romney. I remember hearing adults say that George, known as a moderate, did not approve of Ronna’s activism. If there was a schism in the family, it has certainly continued generationally: Mitt Romney is now the leading anti-Trump Republican in the country, while the younger Ronna, now Ronna McDaniel, dropped the Romney name to secure Trump’s support to lead the Republican National Committee.

Romney’s group was called Taxpayers Organized to Restore Our Cultural Heritage, or TORCH. . . . One community member supporting TORCH compared the secularization of public schools to the communist system he had fled. Another supporter warned darkly of “certain groups” that had gained “undue influence” over the school system.

I’m sure many people in the community had motives other than anti-Semitism for lamenting the loss of traditions they cherished and were forced to give up because a bunch of newcomers had moved in. To feel discomfort when your community changes is a common sentiment from which no group is immune.

The American passion for Christmas is deeply bound up in nostalgia. That can be, and usually is, a beautiful, perfectly innocent emotion connected to family and childhood celebrations. The likes of Trump and Carlson have figured out that it can also be a powerful lever to pry open resentment toward religious minorities and the rather minor accommodations the majority has to make toward them.

One of TORCH’s arguments, which the Christian right has used many times, is that schools or the government should celebrate Christmas because it is “our national holiday.” Carlson’s monologue has the benefit of stripping away this pretext, describing the Christmas tree as a symbol specifically of the Christian religion. I doubt the contradiction bothers any of them, but at least it’s clarifying.

Jews have never been at the top of the list of those most threatened by the ugliness Trump unleashed. But if you think the Jews face no risk, you’re unable to see what lies about an inch below the surface. You do know who the enemy is that is supposedly waging the War on Christmas, right?

Jews, godless gays, non-Christians - we are all the manufactured enemies of white "conservative Christians."

Monday Morning Male Beauty


Sunday, December 12, 2021

More Sunday Male Beauty


California to Consider Gun Legislation Modeled on the Texas Abortion Law

As the saying goes, sometimes one needs to be careful about what they wish for and/or how they go about getting it.  It's a lesson so-called conservatives may soon get in a harsh and very much deserved way.   In Texas, the GOP controled legislature thought it would be coy and pass anti-abortion legislation that in effect made private citizens vigilantes who could sue anyone involved in an abortion imposing a $10,000 civil fine on anyone found guilty of involvement as well as court costs and attorneys fees for the vigilantes filing the lawsuit.  The law was structured as a means to try to shield state officials from federal lawsuits to block the law.  Last week, the U.S.Supreme Court ruled that abortion providers could still sue state officials but left the mechanics of such lawsuits murky.  Now, California's governor and lawmakers are considering using a similar legal framework to target conservatives' sacred cow: guns.  If enacted, gun dealers and other traffickers in guns could find themselves facing lawsuits with simialr fines.  I have always favored strict liability for gun manufacturers and gun owners that would make them liable for any actions taken using a gun to commit a crime or harm others.  Such a law would likely put gun owners in a situation where they'd have to choose between their guns and homeowner's insurance - a requirement of mortgage lenders.  The result would be akin to insurance carriers that refuse to insure homes with dog breeds considered dangerous, such as pit bulls.  The California apprach would not go that far but could greatly increase the pressue on gun dealers and drive up insurance costs considerably.  A piece in the New York Times looks at the proposal:

Angered by the U.S. Supreme Court decision to continue allowing private citizens to sue Texas abortion providers, Gov. Gavin Newsom of California on Saturday called for a similar law giving ordinary residents legal standing to file lawsuits against purveyors of restricted firearms.

“SCOTUS is letting private citizens in Texas sue to stop abortion?!” Mr. Newsom, a Democrat, tweeted. “If that’s the precedent, then we’ll let Californians sue those who put ghost guns and assault weapons on our streets. If TX can ban abortion and endanger lives, CA can ban deadly weapons of war and save lives.”

In a statement released on Saturday evening, Mr. Newsom said he had instructed his staff to work with California’s Legislature and attorney general to write a bill that would let citizens sue anyone who “manufactures, distributes, or sells an assault weapon or ghost gun kit or parts” in California. The governor called for damages of at least $10,000 per violation, plus costs and attorney’s fees.

“If the most efficient way to keep these devastating weapons off our streets is to add the threat of private lawsuits, we should do just that,” Mr. Newsom said in the statement.

The governor’s response seemed to explicitly position California opposite Texas in the divisive battles over abortion rights and gun control — and to position him personally on a national front in the culture wars.

Relatively secure now in his prospects for re-election, the governor has increasingly raised his national profile. He has undertaken a national book tour to promote a children’s book he has written on dyslexia, a lifelong challenge. And as tornadoes swept through Southeastern states, leaving a path of devastation, Mr. Newsom publicly offered assistance to states such as Kentucky, deploying specialized urban search and rescue resources.

The governor’s vow to use California courts against gun violence followed the Supreme Court’s decision on Friday to let stand Texas’ ban on most abortions. The law allows private citizens to sue anyone who “aids or abets” an abortion performed after a fetal heartbeat can be detected. That development typically occurs around six weeks and often before women realize they are pregnant.

Supporters of abortion rights have criticized Texas for drafting its abortion ban to evade review in federal court, where it might be blocked. It effectively deputizes ordinary citizens, including those outside Texas, to sue clinics and others who violate the ban, awarding them at least $10,000 per illegal abortion if they are successful.

Mr. Newsom’s response seemed to fulfill warnings that if the high court backed Texas’ legal strategy, liberal-leaning states might use the same tactic to limit rights dear to conservatives, such as gun rights.

The governor said that “if states can now shield their laws from review by the federal courts that compare assault weapons to Swiss Army knives, then California will use that authority to protect people’s lives, where Texas used it to put women in harm’s way.”

The reference was a swipe at a court ruling this year in which a federal judge overturned California’s three-decade-old ban on assault weapons, comparing the powerful guns, frequently used in mass shootings, to military pocketknives.

Sunday Morning Male Beauty