Saturday, October 29, 2022

Saturday Male Beauty - Pt 3


The GOP Embraces Age-Old Homophobia to Mislead Voters

A previous post looked at the growing unease many in the LGBT community - myself included - are feeling as once again Republican candidates and far right groups are intensifying the demonization of LGBT individuals and claiming we are a threat to the safety of children and/or seek to corrupt children.  This claims ignore study after study that document that the vast majority of child predators are HETEROSEXUAL men.  In today's far right and Republican Party politics, facts and the the truth (a piece in The Atlantic looks at how the GOP base is increasingly and dangerously unhinged from objective reality) simply do not matter.   While some of the anti-gay lies are deliberately disseminated by religious extremist, many are being pushed by Republican candidates or office holders - many of whom know better - seeking to pander to the GOP's increasingly evangelical and white supremacist (the majority of whom are also homophobes) dominated base.  A piece at CNN looks at how old lies and false tropes often under the smokescreen of Parental rights" are being revived to use LGBT individuals as political bogeymen  with no thought to the potential for violence and discrimination that is being engendered.  Here are highlights:

Lawmakers across dozens of mostly Republican-led states have passed or introduced a record number of anti-LGBTQ bills this year, per a CNN analysis of data gathered by the American Civil Liberties Union, and this legislative assault has been attended by discourse on the political right denigrating LGBTQ people.

In June, for instance, members of the extremist group the Proud Boys barged into the San Lorenzo Library in California and interrupted Drag Queen Story Hour. One of the insults they reportedly tossed: “groomer” – a term that maligns LGBTQ people as child predators.

Mere days later, Christopher Rufo, the activist who powered the “critical race theory” panic, invited his fellow conservatives to “start using the phrase ‘trans stripper’ in lieu of ‘drag queen’” because the former “has a more lurid set of connotations and shifts the debate to sexualization,” and “‘trans strippers in schools’ anchors an unstoppable argument.”

The following month, Florida Republican state Rep. Anthony Sabatini declared menacingly, “Florida to Groomers: your days are numbered.” This perversion of the term “grooming” can draw attention away from the real scourge of child abuse often enabled by predatory adults who groom child victims.

Together, these examples snap into focus the prevalence of anti-LGBTQ rhetoric in our present day. As the midterm elections approach and political leaders test out their values, it’s worth looking a little bit more closely at the issue:

Last week, Rep. Mike Johnson of Louisiana introduced a measure, which was co-sponsored by dozens of other Republicans, that some describe as a national version of Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill, as critics call it. “The Democrat (sic) Party and their cultural allies are on a misguided crusade to immerse young children in sexual imagery and radical gender ideology,” Johnson said in a statement about the bill, which groups sexual orientation and gender identity with pornography and stripping . . . .

Gender ideology: It’s a decades-old term many Republican leaders have embraced in recent months that mischaracterizes gender – a social construct of norms and behaviors that doesn’t necessarily align with the sex someone was assigned at birth – as an attack on “traditional” home dynamics.

According to the UC Berkeley philosopher Judith Butler, what the anti-gender ideology movement calls gender is a fiction – a phantasm. “It’s not really what people in gender studies mean by gender,” they said. “(The movement is) imagining something that will destroy civilization or man or the family or society as we know it. So, gender is given enormous power that it doesn’t have.”

The University of Southern California critical studies professor Madison Moore expressed similar sentiments earlier this year, as attacks on drag – which challenges rigid notions of gender and which the measure targets – appeared to spike in cities across the country.

“If we think about the states denying the rights of transgender youth or gender-nonconforming youth to health care, including mental health care, that’s hurting children,” they said. “It’s hurting children who are trying to move out of the despair of being subjected to a set of social expectations that are just not acceptable to them. Those kids are suffering.” . . . . “The [Texas] state leadership has said, ‘We would rather see dead children … instead of happy, loved, supported, thriving trans kids that are alive and well.’”

Johnson’s bill shines a light on another example of anti-LGBTQ language.  “Parents and legal guardians have the right and responsibility to determine where, if, when, and how their children are exposed to material of a sexual nature,” the text reads.

The measure is couched in the noble, seemingly anodyne language of parental rights. But the bill seems designed less to secure rights for parents and more to quash discussions about sensitive topics, including sexual orientation and gender identity. It’s a strategy that many Republican politicians use to mask their deeper ambitions, according to the Pepperdine University law professor and historian Edward Larson.

Larson wrote in a September piece for The Washington Post charting “parental rights” back to the politician William Jennings Bryan’s “crusade against the teaching of evolution in schools” in the early 20th century.

Butler underlined the perils of this kind of parental control, and in particular stressed the value of protecting education as a form of open inquiry and debate.  “I think that the truth of the situation is that people who teach sex education or people in gender studies who seek to teach about feminism, transgender rights and queer movements – these are efforts to open up a conversation that’s been shut down for so long,” they said. “We’re opening up questions that are disturbing for some people, and they’re not willing to live with that disturbance. But that disturbance is necessary for education.”

In March, Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis’ then-press secretary, Christina Pushaw, made a claim that stunned and horrified many LGBTQ people and their allies. “If you’re against the Anti-Grooming Bill, you are probably a groomer or at least you don’t denounce the grooming of 4-8 year old children,” Pushaw, who’s now the Florida governor’s rapid response director, tweeted, referring to opponents of the state’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill.  Her use of “groomer” is part of a resurgence of age-old homophobic language, especially the spurious idea that LGBTQ people are corrupting children.

It’s hard to overstate the dangers of the “groomer” claim. More specifically, Kreis said, it could fuel various forms of discrimination.

“‘Groomer’ imposes a label that marks someone as predatory. We criminalize people who are predators and would take advantage of children – and rightly so,” he said. “But when you lump a group of people together and suggest, You’re all innately prone to criminal activity, you’re not only opening the door to legal discrimination – you’re enhancing the likelihood of people engaging in violent acts and hate crimes.”

The possibility of discrimination is what worries Kreis as the country heads into the midterm elections.

“I fear that the rhetoric will take hold and people who believe it will gain power and attempt to legislate on it,” he said. “That’s the real danger, I think – that people who believe animus-based ideologies will have power and will try to use it to harm LGBTQ communities.”

More Saturday Male Beauty - Pt 2


American Jews (and Gays) Start to Think the Unthinkable

The husband and I are about to begin the last phase of our renovations to our historic home we purchased in 2020: adding a large side porch designed to look original which will provide wonderful covered outdoor entertaining space.  Yet a part of me is increasingly asking "is this a good idea if we may need to leave Virginia and the United States?"  With Christian nationalism taking control of the Republican Party and anti-LGBT bills being introduced in both state houses across the country and Congress and a U.S. Supreme Court that could be poised to roll back LGBT protections as it gives deference to only right wing Christian "religious freedom," the future looks much more fearful than just two years ago.   Frighteningly, too many Republican friends and acquaintances appear blind to what has happened to their political party and will likely vote for those only too happy to erase our rights and non-discrimination protections.  A column in the Washington Post looks at growing fear among American Jews which is just as applicable to LGBT Americans.  While the author ends the piece vowing to stay and fight, one cannot help but think of those in Germany roughly 90 years ago who thought the same thing and perished as a result.  Here are column highlights:

On the holiest night of the Jewish year earlier this month, my rabbi looked up from his Kol Nidre sermon — a homily about protecting America’s liberal democracy — and posed a question that wasn’t in his prepared text: “How many people in the last few years have been at a dining room conversation where the conversation has turned to where might we move? How many of us?”

He was talking about the unthinkable: that Jews might need to flee the United States. In the congregation, many hands — most? — went up.

The sermon included a quotation from the Jewish scholar Michael Holzman: “For American Jews, the disappearance of liberal democracy would be a disaster. … We have flourished under the shelter of the principles behind the First Amendment, and we have been protected by the absolute belief in the rule of law. Without these, Jews, start packing suitcases.”

The fear of exile has become common as Jews see the unraveling rule of law, ascendant Christian nationalists and anti-Israel sentiments turning antisemitic on the far left. Wondering where Jews might move “is among the most frequently asked questions that I get,” Jonathan Greenblatt, head of the Anti-Defamation League, told me.

Incidents of antisemitic harassment, vandalism and assault nearly tripled between 2015 and 2021, the ADL reports, and it says 2022 attacks are on pace with last year’s record level. This week was the fourth anniversary of the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre, which was followed by other synagogue attacks in 2019 and earlier this year. One in 4 U.S. Jews has experienced antisemitism in the past year.

Now we have Kanye West, who now goes by Ye, unleashing a torrent of filth on social media (“death con 3 On JEWISH PEOPLE”), white supremacists applauding him (and giving Nazi salutes to Los Angeles motorists), Elon Musk’s Twitter preparing to welcome white supremacists, and the Pennsylvania Republican gubernatorial nominee deploying antisemitism against his Jewish opponent.

The leader of the Republican Party, who remains the top presidential contender for 2024, reacted to Ye’s attacks on Jews by saying, “He was really nice to me.” Donald Trump compared Jews unfavorably to “our wonderful Evangelicals” and warned Jews to “get their act together and appreciate what they have in Israel — Before it is too late.”

The threat was the latest of many Trump claims that Jews have a dual loyalty and are not fully American. As usual, Republicans were mostly silent.

For Jews, just 2 percent of the population but the targets of 55 percent of reported religiously motivated hate crimes, the trend revives centuries-old fears. . . . most Jews are White and benefit from associated privilege. But until the American experiment, Jews in the diaspora were marginalized, ghettoized, persecuted and eventually converted, exiled or killed. “As Jews, we know at some point the music stops,” Greenblatt said. “This is burned into the collective consciousness of every Jewish person.”

The United States has until now been different because of our constitutional protections of minority rights: our bedrock principles of equal treatment under law, free expression and free exercise of religion. Now, the MAGA crowd is attacking the very notion of minority rights. Ascendant Christian nationalists, with a sympathetic Supreme Court, are dismantling the separation between church and state. Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.), for example, calls the principle “junk that’s not in the Constitution” and claims “the church is supposed to direct the government.” Red states, again with an agreeable Supreme Court, are rolling back minority voting rights and decades of civil rights protections.

Without these protections, there is no safety in the United States for Jews [or gays] — or, really, for any of us. In a perverse sense, Trump’s MAGA movement shares the fear of becoming a persecuted minority. The whole notion of the bogus “great replacement” conspiracy belief is that some nefarious elite is scheming to import immigrants of color to marginalize White people.

In reality, it will be almost a quarter-century before White people are no longer a majority in this country — and they should remain a plurality well into the next century, at least. But if white nationalists truly fear becoming an oppressed minority, the best way to guard against that is to fortify minority rights. The rule of law protects us — all of us — from tyranny.

Sadly, American Christofascists and evangelicals refuse to recognize that protecting minority rights protects everyone - likely because their mindset is live by our rules or leave or perish.  

More Saturday Morning Male Beauty


America is Now a Tyranny of the Minority

If American democracy dies over the next few years it will be due to (i) defects in the Founding Father's design of the American system, spefically the Electoral College and the structure of the U.S. Senate that gives disproportionate power to small rural states, and (ii) America's two-party system and how primaries have come to insure that each party, but especially the Republican Party, fields the most extreme candidates who do not reflect the will/views of the majority of the citizenry.  In his farewell address, George Washington warned against political parties and partisanship:

"However [political parties] may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion."

Numerous previous post have focused on the need to abolish the Electoral College and reform the structure of the U.S. Senate - things that appear unlikely to happen in time to save the nation.  As for Washington's warnings against political parties, we are now witnessing a Republican Party where the party and holding power are placed above the interests of the nation and the majority of citizens.  A column in the Washington Post looks at the cancer that party primaries have become.  Here are excerpts:

History and current polling both tell us that the House of Representatives will likely flip over to Republican control in the November midterms. What happens then? Actual governance will come to a standstill. There will be a flurry of investigations on everything from the Justice Department to Hunter Biden to the border crisis. The Jan. 6 committee will almost certainly be disbanded. And it’s not implausible to imagine that President Biden will be impeached.

How did we get here? There are, of course, many reasons. But the central facilitating factor is surely the way that U.S. politics has, over the past few decades, increasingly empowered the extremes of political parties at the expense of the mainstream.

The primary system American parties use to choose their candidates is extremely unusual; no other major democracy has one quite like it. Primaries ensure that the candidates chosen are selected by slivers of the parties — around 20 percent of all eligible voters. And this selection is not at all representative — these are the most intense, agitated activists, often far more extreme in their views than run-of-the-mill registered Republicans or Democrats. Add to this decades of sophisticated, computer-enabled gerrymandering, and you get extreme candidates who run in safe districts where the only threat to them is a primary candidate who is even more extreme.

The Washington Post has analyzed Republicans running for the Senate, House and certain statewide offices and found that a majority could be classified as “election deniers” — people who have in some way questioned, challenged or refused to accept the outcome of the 2020 presidential election. Of these 291 candidates, 171 are running in safe Republican districts. So what began as a fringe theory, promoted by Donald Trump but (initially) rejected by most of the Republican Party’s leaders, has now become the majority view of the party.

Election denial is not a majority view in the United States. In an NBC poll, 57 percent of those asked said that they would be less likely to vote for someone who claims Trump won the 2020 election, while only 21 percent said they would be more likely to support an election denier. But between primaries and gerrymandering, the majority view gets drowned out.

The alternative system of candidate selection, used in the United States before the era of primaries and in most other major democracies, is what is often called the “smoke-filled room” (a pejorative description even before we knew that smoking kills you). In this system, candidates are selected by party bosses. But consider who these “bosses” have traditionally been: aldermen, mayors, governors and legislators. These are people who have won general elections by appealing to the entire electorate, people who have a feel for the broader public.

While the problem is far worse and much more dangerous on the Republican side, these pressures also affect Democrats. Many of the issues where Biden is constrained in his actions — in particular immigration and energy — are ones where the activist base of the party has much more extreme views than the mainstream.

In a recent piece in the New York Times, Max Fisher describes how the recent dysfunctions of British politics can be attributed to the two main parties choosing — over the past two decades — to adopt more of a primary-type system to select their leaders.

It is not an accident that Germany and France have both been run largely by solid centrists in a time of populism. They have chosen to keep to the old system of democracy based on the principle of majority rule. In the United States, and to an extent in Britain, democracy has become minority rule, and the minority holding power is unrepresentative, angry and increasingly radical.

Be very fearful for the future.

Saturday Morning Male Beauty


Friday, October 28, 2022

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GOP Has No Inflation Plan as U.S. Economy Grows

To listen to Republican campaign ads, the U.S. economy is a hellscape and solely the fault od Democrats - never mind Russia's war and Ukraine and the backstabbing Saudis who cut oil production to keep prices high.  The new ecomic data released yesteday shows a different picture with the economy growing 2.6% in the third quarter and unemployment at 50 year lows.   On top of this the reality is that the GOP has no economic plan to cut inflation and, if in control of Congress, would engage in another round of reverse Robin Hood policies and an increase in the deficit which has fallen under the Biden administration.  Two pieces look at the situation and the GOP's lack of any economic plan.  First this from the Washington Post on the latest economic numbers:

The U.S. economy grew at an annual rate of 2.6 percent in the third quarter, marking its first increase in 2022 and a sharp turnaround after six months of contraction — despite lingering fears that the country is at risk of a recession.

The report on gross domestic product, released Thursday by the Bureau of Economic Analysis, revealed a more upbeat snapshot of the economy less than two weeks before the midterm elections, even as high inflation has proved a persistent problem for Democrats.

Even though consumers bought fewer goods, they continued to spend on health care, which helped lift the reading on GDP, which sums up goods and services produced in the U.S. economy. An increase in government spending at the federal, state and local levels also contributed to the gains.

The biggest boost, though, came from a narrowing trade deficit, with American retailers importing fewer items and exporting more goods as well as services, such as travel. That is a stark reversal from earlier in the year, when the gap between incoming goods and outgoing ones was at its widest on record.

A number of recent indicators point to a broader cooling of the economy, most notably in the housing market. Home sales have tumbled for eight straight months and are likely to keep falling because of rising interest rates. And average mortgage rates for 30-year loans exceeded 7 percent for the first time since the early 2000s, Freddie Mac reported this week.

Still, the turnaround in GDP comes at a crucial time for Democrats, who are racing to assuage voter concerns about the economy ahead of the midterms in early November. Inflation — with gas prices in particular — has been one of the biggest political challenges for the White House.

“Today we got further evidence that our economic recovery is continuing to power forward,” Biden said in a statement, adding, “Our economy has created 10 million jobs, unemployment is at a 50 year low, and U.S. manufacturing is booming. … Now, we need to make more progress on our top economic challenge: bringing down high prices for American families.”

Republican lawmakers were quick to push back. Economic growth, they said, was fleeting and likely to reverse in coming months.

“We’ve seen very clearly a slowdown in consumer spending over the course of the year,” said John Leer, chief economist at Morning Consult. “There’s been a pretty dramatic reallocation of spending because of elevated levels of inflation. Consumers are devoting a larger share of their wallets to food, gas and housing, while pulling back in other areas.”

The positive report follows two quarters of contraction. Those declines met one definition of a recession, though the official determination is made by a private group of experts. The U.S. economy shrank by 1.6 percent in the first quarter, then 0.6 percent in the second, according to revised estimates from the government.

For now, though, hiring remains brisk and the unemployment rate, at 3.5 percent, is near historic lows. And although consumers are pulling back on some items — such as homes, cars and appliances — they are continuing to spend on travel and dining out, which is helping prop up the economy.

A range of major companies, including Bank of America, Johnson & Johnson and Lockheed Martin, have reported better-than-expected sales and profits in recent weeks, reflecting strength in the corporate sector.

[B]usiness has been booming at Stowe Mercantile in Stowe, Vt. . . . “Our revenue is strong as ever, and we have a solid staff, so the increased revenue supports increasing all those wages,” Sherman said. “At the same time, we’ve seen no real slowdown. The drumbeat for a recession seems to get louder by the week, and yet we aren’t seeing anything in our business.”

As for the GOP's lack of any beneficial economic plan, a column in the New York Times by a Nobel Prize winning economist looks at the reality of the GOP agenda.  Here are highlights:

Few things I’ve written in recent years have generated as much hate mail as a relatively low-key, somewhat nerdy newsletter I put out just before the release of data on gross domestic product for the second quarter of 2022. In that newsletter I explained why, despite a lot of misinformation in the news media, a recession is not defined as two quarters of declining G.D.P. and the first half of 2022 was unlikely to meet the actual, multidimensional criteria used by the committee that determines (after the fact) whether a recession has started.

The reason for the hate mail was, of course, that Republicans were eager to declare a “Biden recession” and falsely accused the administration of a double standard when it said that we were not, in fact, in a recession.

Well, Thursday’s advance G.D.P. report for the third quarter of 2022 showed why a recession call based on two quarters of somewhat bizarre data would have been all wrong. Economic growth has rebounded, back up to 2.6 percent at an annual rate — putting G.D.P. back in line with strong employment growth, which has continued throughout the year.

For now, suffice it to say, we weren’t in a recession earlier this year and aren’t in a recession now, although we could find ourselves in one in the future as delayed effects of rising interest rates kick in.

Republicans have largely given up on the recession story. Instead, their economic attacks, in both debates and campaign ads, have been focused overwhelmingly on inflation, especially gas prices.

It therefore seems worth pointing out that the G.O.P. doesn’t have a plan to fight inflation. Actually, it doesn’t have any coherent economic plan at all. But to the extent that Republicans have laid out what they will try to do if they win the midterms, their policies would make inflation worse, not better.

When pressed about how, exactly, they would reduce inflation, Republicans often fall back on some version of “Gas was only $2 a gallon when Trump left office!” So let’s talk about that comparison.

First, it’s remarkable how the right has reimagined January 2021 as a golden moment for America. At the time, about 20,000 Americans were dying from Covid every week; there were still nine million fewer jobs than there had been before the pandemic. Indeed, the still-depressed state of major economies, including that of the United States, was the main reason world oil prices were unusually low, which in turn was the main reason gas was cheap.

And despite G.O.P. rhetoric, Biden administration policies have had little impact on gas prices, which have been driven by events affecting world markets — notably Russia’s invasion of Ukraine — and to some extent by bottlenecks in refining, which grew worse for several weeks starting in mid-September but have eased again.

So what is the Republican plan to bring gas prices down? There isn’t one. . . . . If you’re worried about the inflationary impact of budget deficits, however, you should know that almost the only concrete economic policy idea we’re hearing from Republicans is that they want to extend the Trump tax cuts, which would … substantially increase the deficit.

It’s true that many Republicans adhere to an economic ideology that doesn’t see deficits caused by tax cuts as a problem, either because they believe — in the teeth of all the evidence — that tax cuts somehow pay for themselves, or because they believe that government spending, not deficits per se, is what causes problems.

But if you believe that cutting taxes without any plausible plan for offsetting spending cuts isn’t a problem even in a time of inflation, markets beg to disagree.

Look at what happened to the pound and British interest rates after Liz Truss, the quickly deposed prime minister, announced an economic plan that, broadly speaking, looks a lot like what Republicans are proposing here.

The bottom line is that while the G.O.P.’s election strategy is all about blaming the Biden administration for inflation, the Republican Party doesn’t actually have any plan to reduce inflation. To the extent it has an economic plan at all, it would make inflation worse.

Don't be fooled by GOP lies.

Friday Morning Male Beauty


Thursday, October 27, 2022

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Christian Nationalists in Italy and Brazil: A Warning for America

Just a decade ago liberal democratic values for the most part seemed to be ascendant.  Now, across the globe and here at home in America the far right is on an upswing nothwithstanding Joe Biden's defeat of Donald Trump in 2020.   For racial minorities, religious minorities and the LGBT community, these are frightening times as Christian Nationalist use us as bogey men to frighten voters to support candidates and regimes that ultimately will not improve their economic fortunes - most of the right including GOP candidates supports policies that will only further concentrate wealth among the few - but give voters a symbolic sense of power.  Fake news and irresponsible social media allow the far right to spread lies and untruths and fuel divisiveness and the demonization of minorities of all stripes.  Infuriatingly, right wing elected officials work to impede policies that would improve the economic and finacial status of the majority while falsely claiming to be their champions.  A piece in Politico looks at the rise of Christian Nationalism around the globe and the threat it poses in America.  While the piece does not mention it, this is the same kind of nationalism which claimed god was on its side that lead to WWI and WWII and the deaths of milians of civilians and members of the military.  Here are highlights:

These are dangerous times. Elections are, once again, bringing far-right nationalist leaders to power around the world. For decades, representative democracies have allowed for increasing accumulation of wealth at the top and growing precarity for the working classes — a fertile ground for the far right to capitalize on discontent.

Far-right leaders are selling popular empowerment based on the discrimination and oppression of “the other”: immigrants, gender dissidents, feminists, religious minorities, left-wing “radicals,” the indigenous and the poor. Meanwhile, mainstream progressive governments have consistently failed to deliver broadly shared prosperity and economic security. It should not be so surprising then that people have ended up supporting a kind of politics that at least gives them symbolic power.

The far right is currently ruling in: Hungary with Viktor Orbán, who has come out against race mixing in Europe and was a speaker at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Texas this summer; Poland with the Christian nationalist party, Law and Justice, which opposes gay marriage, abortion and immigration; India, the most populous representative democracy in the world, with Narendra Modi, who has pursued Hindu-nationalist policies against religious minorities; Turkey with the imposition of Islamic nationalism and the ethnic cleansing against Kurds by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan; Brazil with Jair Bolsonaro, who has denounced “homosexual fundamentalists,” called indigenous peoples “parasites” and advanced agribusiness by promoting the burning of the Amazon basin; and more recently, Italy with Giorgia Meloni, heir to Mussolini’s fascist legacy, the new prime minister after her right-wing coalition achieved a majority in Parliament.

The current surge of MAGA Republicans running for Congress and Donald Trump’s likely 2024 bid to reclaim the White House are part of this trend.

But to better understand the rise of the global far right, look to the two most recent elections involving Christian nationalist candidates: the presidential and congressional elections in Brazil and the parliamentary election in Italy. In both, far-right leaders have effectively appealed to ethnicity — particularly religion — and used largely unregulated social media platforms to amplify propaganda and “fake news” that further normalizes extreme ideas and the demand to establish discriminatory policies.

The far right paved its way to power in Brazil, the largest Latin American economy, after launching attacks on the leaders of the ruling Workers’ Party (PT). In 2016, through lawfare — the misuse of rules and procedures as a political weapon . . . . Bolsonaro, an ex-military officer who called Hitler “a great strategist” and believes Brazil is “a Christian country,” became the front runner and was elected in a runoff with 55 percent of the vote. Bolsonaro has spent the last four years in office divisively governing as the “Trump of the Tropics.”

On Oct. 2, Bolsonaro faced a rematch with Lula, who was ultimately vindicated after wrongfully spending 548 days in prison. In the first round of the Brazilian presidential election, Lula came in first, with 48 percent of the vote — two points short of the majority to win outright.. . . . Perhaps the most important factor at the end of the campaign was the proliferation of fake news stating that Lula would persecute Christians and close churches if elected, which helped Bolsonaro lure centrist votes to his side.

Bolsonaro constantly used religion on the trail as a cultural identity marker in a bid to re-impose eroded patriarchal hierarchies and traditions. Issues such as abortion and transgender rights were at the center of the debate for evangelical Christians, who account for a third of Brazilians and were among Bolsonaro’s strongest supporters. Evangelical churches had also actively campaigned for Bolsonaro in 2018, and in return received tax exemptions, appointments to several ministries, the removal of LGBTQ protections from public guidelines and a pastor in the Supreme Court. It’s a replay of what happened in the United States: Evangelical Christians were instrumental in Trump’s 2016 election, and he then delivered a Supreme Court that overturned abortion rights.

In addition to the surprisingly high support for Bolsonaro, his far-right allies did tremendously well in the elections for Congress, . . . . This means that even if Lula defeats Bolsonaro in the runoff election on Oct. 30, he will have to deal with an aggressive conservative Congress, willing to block legislation and impeach him and his ministers. This political straitjacket will narrow the range of governmental action to bring welfare to the precarious majority.

The far right is also resurging in Italy, the EU’s third-biggest economy.

For the past year and a half, Italy has been administered by a technocratic “national unity” government, which briefly brought together left-populist, center and far-right parties, and was led by Mario Draghi, the former governor of the European Central Bank. . . . In the recent snap election, Meloni campaigned with the slogan “Italy and Italians first!” . . . . Brothers of Italy is the successor of the neo-fascist Italian Social Movement (MSI), which was active but marginal until 1995. In addition to occupying the same headquarters as MSI in Rome and using its central symbol, the tricolor flame, Brothers of Italy follow closely the 1926 fascist doctrine to protect the “State, family, morality and the economy.” Meloni, a Christian nationalist who praised Mussolini when she was younger, has promised to “defend God, country, and family.” Her rhetoric comes straight from the far-right playbook.

She has proposed a naval blockade against migrants (a measure that was declared a violation of human rights by the European Court of Human Rights in 2012), to “protect human life from conception” (abortion has been legal in Italy since 1978 and has been reaffirmed in two national referendums) and to cut taxes. In a speech in a meeting with the Spanish far-right party Vox in June, she laid out the principles of her neo-fascist ideology: “yes to the natural family … no to gender ideology … yes to the universality of the Cross … no to mass immigration, yes to jobs for our citizens, no to international finance.”

Meloni’s victory is partially due to anti-establishment sentiments after the failure of successive governments to improve living conditions, as well as to the spreading of fake news that appealed to people’s fear of “the other.”

The far right is today a transnational network, so it is not surprising that similar tactics to lure people into a sense of empowerment based on the oppression of others are now at work in American politics.

Moreover, the Biden administration has not substantially improved the living conditions of the majority in the face of stiff conservative resistance and its own reluctance to act boldly. An economy marked by high inflation has people in a sour mood that could lead to a Democratic wipeout in the midterms. Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve seems increasingly eager to fuel a recession, meaning things could get even worse for ordinary Americans.

With fear and anxiety about their livelihoods and positions in society, people are more likely to turn to Trumpism and its Christian nationalist politics. If Democrats are unable to deliver immediate economic relief and deep reforms that can increase the wellbeing and sense of security for the public, the far-right resurgence across the globe could soon hit the United States.

Be very afraid for the future. 

Thursday Morning Male Beauty


Wednesday, October 26, 2022

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2022 Mid-Terms: More Is At Stake Than Inflation and Gas Prices

Last evening I watched the Virginia 2nd Congressional District debate between Democrat incumbent Elaine Luria and GOP challenger Jen Kiggans the latter of whom once again revealed herself to be a liar and devoid of any shred of an economic plan to deal with inflation and gasoline prices.  Kiggans bloviated about Nancy Pelosi and crime while lying about Luria's concrete policies and bills backing funding to address the issues.  She whined about the shortage of police officers yet ignored the real problem: loq pay for a dangerous job, something GOP tax cuts for the wealthy and big business will not solve.  The debate was a microcosim of the larger choice facing voters on November 8th: (i) support Democrats who have delivered real results (this is well lid out in a piece in the Washington Post) while facing global economic forces that cannot be controlled rgardless of who controls Congress, or (ii) support Republicans who have no economic plan and only offer up a reverse Robin Hood agenda combined with attacks on democracy itself and large doses of racism and homophobia.   A piece in The Atlantic makes clear that a GOP controled Congress will not solve inflation or gas prices but will set the stage for higher inflation and a reduction in freedom.  Here are highlights:

The races in the midterm are tightening up, but everyone who cares about democracy should resist the urge to turn the election into a referendum on inflation.

Last summer, it seemed like the Republicans were going to face a reversal of political gravity, and the Democrats would keep their majority during a first midterm election under a Democratic president. Historically, this is hard to do: Voters, for many reasons, usually trim congressional seats from a first-term president’s party. But the Democrats have benefited from the Republican plunge into extremism. The GOP still refuses to abandon Donald Trump and his violent insurrectionist movement; it is running ghastly candidates; and like a dog chasing a car, it smashed its snout into the bumper of the Supreme Court’s Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization decision overturning Roe v. Wade, angering millions.

But autumn is here, and Democratic candidates are now struggling against this parade of election deniers, religious bigots, and conspiracy theorists who once would have been beyond the pale of modern American politics. The revelations of January 6, as I wrote earlier this month, seem irrelevant to many voters . . .

Some of this is the result of Democratic miscalculations. Abortion rights and Donald Trump were never going to win this election on their own, and though foreign policy is a Democratic bright spot, it does not usually play much as an issue in midterm elections.

Yes, inflation is high, and Americans always blame the party in power for such indicators. But there is another reason the Democrats could lose to this bizarre parade of otherwise unelectable candidates: The coalition to protect American democracy has failed to present a narrative of what life would look like—politically and economically—if this Republican Party returns to power.

Republicans aren’t bothering to run on that same narrative, other than to say that Democrats are responsible for all bad things, including inflation. Republicans know their base, and have not bothered to put forward anything like an economic plan. The GOP response to everything is a Gish Gallop of fearful messages about crime and immigration and gun rights and trans people, and for their voters, it works.

[I]t’s not because of gas prices that in Arizona, Kari Lake is running an ad featuring a homophobic and Islamophobic pastor. Doug Mastriano is not running as a Christian nationalist in Pennsylvania because milk is more expensive.

And Herschel Walker and Raphael Warnock are not in a tight race because Georgia voters think that Walker understands the problems of the common folk (unless the problem is men not acknowledging the children they’ve fathered).

But the economy and democratic freedom are related—and the voters are capable of understanding this, if anyone would bother to make the case. Instead of preemptively apologizing for inflation or trying to undermine Biden’s foreign policy, perhaps the Democrats and others supporting a prodemocracy coalition should ask Americans if they’d like their votes nullified and to see the U.S. eventually transformed into a democratically challenged country like Turkey, where an autocratic president cracks down on his opponents and presides over an 83 percent inflation rate. Perhaps they’d like to be Hungary—a country now loved by many on the American right—where democracy is floundering, inflation is 20 percent, and teachers are marching in the streets.

Perhaps those of us who believe democracy is on the ballot could take a page from Ronald Reagan, who in 1980 pummeled Jimmy Carter both on the economy and foreign policy and won. And yet, by 1982, his victory seemed to be in ashes and predictions of a single term were common. . . . . Reagan’s answer was not “I feel your pain,” or “It’s the economy, stupid,” but rather: “Stay the course.” He asked the public to stand by him rather than return to the situation they had just left behind.

The need to stay the course is even more important now. Voters concerned about democracy should remind their fellow citizens that a GOP majority will not fix the economy or face down the Russians. Instead, state-level Republicans will issue partisan challenges to our constitutional process while cowardly national Republicans nod their approval. By 2025, Republicans at the state and national level might be able to simply ignore any election result they happen not to like.

To believe that voters can only think of one thing at a time is a remarkably elitist position, especially when Americans have repeatedly proved that they can vote on multiple issues. To reduce everything in 2022 to inflation and gasoline is to demean and infantilize the voters, to treat them as if they are cattle whose only concern is the price of feed. But all of us need to make the case for democracy and prosperity—and to remind ourselves that these blessings cannot exist without each other.

Wednesday Morning Male Beauty


Tuesday, October 25, 2022

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The Midterms: A Referendum on Democracy in America and Ukraine

With Republicans across America working to undermine democracy and to disenfranchise voters, it should come as little surprise that there is a growing pro-Putin faction among congressional Republicans and candidates who will seek to cut aid to Ukraine if the gain control of the House and/or Senate. Putin's endless war crimes and the murdder of civilians shockingly means nothing to these individuals. Then again, these same individuals were not disturbed when migrant children were put in cages by the Trump regime.   Their sole quest is for power at any price, including subverting free and honest electios and, if necessary killing American democracy.  A column by a former long time Republican makes the case that the only responsible vote for those who believe in and support democracy here at home and abroad is to vote Democrat on November 8, 2022.  In a host of ways, this is the most important election of our lifetimes and if Republicans win, hand wring and wailing after the fact will not be enough to save our democratic freedoms.  Here are column excerpts:

Polls suggest that the economy and crime are among the most important issues for voters in the midterms — and that, as a result, Republicans are surging in the home stretch. I think a lot of voters are missing the point. These elections are actually a referendum on whether you favor the continuation of democracy in America — and Ukraine.

Those issues are more closely linked than most people realize, because most of the same MAGA candidates who support Donald Trump’s strongman rule at home are either indifferent or hostile to the fate of democracy abroad. J.D. Vance, the GOP nominee for U.S. Senate in Ohio, exemplifies the trend: He has said the 2020 election was “stolen” and “I don’t really care what happens to Ukraine one way or another.”

That makes it all the more disturbing that Vance and other MAGA candidates are in the lead two weeks before Election Day. Vladimir Putin must have a smug smile on his face as he reads reports of recent political developments in the “Main Enemy,” as KGB agents of his generation referred to the United States.

A Post analysis found that “a majority of Republican nominees on the ballot this November for the House, Senate and key statewide offices — 291 in all — have denied or questioned the outcome of the last presidential election.” Put another way, this means a majority of the most important GOP candidates reject the fundamental premise of democracy, which is to accept the outcome of an election even if your side loses. Yet in a recent New York Times-Siena College poll, 39 percent of voters (and 71 percent of Republicans) said they are open to supporting candidates who reject the results of the 2020 election. If these candidates prevail, it will mean that aspiring authoritarians could have a stranglehold on our democracy.

It’s especially worrisome to see so many election deniers running so strongly as candidates for governor or secretary of state in swing states — positions in which they would have to certify the results of the next presidential election. Their terrifying credo is expressed by Jim Marchant, the GOP nominee for secretary of state in Nevada, who said: “When my coalition of secretary of state candidates around the country get elected, we’re going to fix the whole country, and President Trump is going to be president again in 2024.”

State-level election deniers will have a lot of support from election deniers in Congress. . . .  It’s easy to imagine them doing everything possible to harass and hinder the Biden administration — from launching politically motivated investigations to forcing a debt default — to prepare the ground for a Trump comeback in 2024. And if the orange emperor does take power again, you can bet he will try to Orbanize – i.e., euthanize – our democracy.

The fallout could reach all the way to Ukraine, where an embattled democracy needs U.S. aid to beat back the Russian invasion. Last week, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), the likely next House speaker, said: “I think people are going to be sitting in a recession and they’re not going to write a blank check to Ukraine. They just won’t do it.”

The Pew Research Center found that the percentage of Republicans saying that the United States is sending too much aid to Ukraine has shot up from 9 percent in March to 32 percent last month. That’s hardly surprising, given that the two most influential right-wing voices in the country — Tucker Carlson and Donald Trump — are hostile to Ukraine and sympathetic to Russia.

If McCarthy were so inclined, he could put together a coalition of Democrats and hawkish Republicans in the House to pass more aid for Ukraine, but he would have to risk incurring the wrath of Trump and his MAGA minions. It’s hard to imagine McCarthy, who has a spine of Jell-O, doing anything so principled. If he faces a choice between the loss of his speakership and the loss of Ukraine, you can guess which he would choose.

The Biden administration can try to hedge against a Republican aid cutoff by trying to pass a massive assistance package for Ukraine before the new Congress is seated. That might be enough to see Kyiv through 2023. But what about 2024 and beyond? Putin gives no sign of stopping his aggression, and he will only be emboldened to see Washington wavering.

If you support democracy in America and Ukraine, you need to vote for Democrats on Nov. 8. But if the current trends hold up, Republicans are likely to take over at least the House and quite possibly the Senate, too, along with many state offices. This is how democracies die, both at home and abroad.

Tuesday Morning Male Beauty


Monday, October 24, 2022

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The GOP Would Wreck the Economy

Republican congressional candidates are trying to use inflation and the economy against Democrat incumbents yet they have no solution or policies to address inflation - something low information voters need to wake up to quickly.   A GOP controled Congress would be a nightmare for average Americans as the GOP would push for more tax cuts for the super wealthy and large corporations while cutting Social Security and Medicare and reverse caps on prescription drug costs - things that help average Americans. The end result: even more inflation while middle and lower income Americans struggle even more.  In short, it would be yet another round of the GOP's reverse Robin Hood agenda where the rich get richer and the rest of us tread water at best.   Sadly, too many Americans do not pay attention to real news as they go about their everyday lives even though being an informed voter isincreasingly critical if one wants to avoid being played for a fool by Republican candidates.  A column in the Washington Post looks at the situation.  Here are column excerpts:

Voters who follow the news closely will likely find it hard to believe that so many fellow Americans would even consider casting ballots for election deniers and Republicans who betrayed democracy. But “low information” Americans are the ones who will decide the midterm elections. Therefore, President Biden and his fellow Democrats must think carefully about their closing argument to win over these people.

Here’s how she described the choice voters have in an interview with MSNBC on Tuesday: “We want to support and strengthen Medicare, Social Security, et cetera. [Republicans] want to use the debt ceiling to cut that.” She also noted that Republicans are willing to use the same tactic to reverse the Inflation Reduction Act’s provisions to lower prescription drug costs.

That’s a real threat: House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has threatened to use the looming deadline to raise the debt limit next year as a means to cut off aid to Ukraine and to roll back Biden’s economic agenda. House Republicans are also eyeing the debt limit deadline as a way to make cuts to hugely popular programs, such as Social Security and Medicare. At the same time, they are seeking to extend President Donald Trump’s tax cuts.

This is more trickle-down economics designed to make the rich richer, which would balloon the national debt and worsen inflation. As such, Democrats should describe the election for what it is: a faceoff between supply-side economics and Biden’s promise to build the economy from “the bottom up and middle out.” This would contrast the two parties as one for the little guy and one for billionaires . . . .

Republicans like to label just about anything that doesn’t benefit the rich as “socialism.” That’s plutocratic economics, not populism. Highlighting the GOP’s core philosophy just might help Democrats retain support among Republican voters who crossed over in 2020 and low-information voters who are suspicious of Big Oil, Big Pharma and Big Business generally.

Democrats can ding Republicans for opposing or resisting virtually everything Biden proposed that didn’t help the rich, such as protections against evictions during the pandemic; money to keep first responders working; expanded health care for sick veterans; measures to control prescription drug costs for seniors; and funding to create jobs in green energy, chip manufacturing and infrastructure. Here’s the message: “If you got help, Mr. and Mrs. Average Voter, Republicans want to take it away. If you’re rich, Republicans are going to make you even richer. And if Democrats don’t go along with the Republicans’ reverse Robin Hood policies, they are willing to burn down the economy with a default or paralyze the government to get their way.”

That’s the GOP inflation “plan.” Biden would be wise to use his time in the next few weeks highlighting it and making clear to working- and middle-class voters that Republicans’ idea of “progress” entails widening the gap between rich and poor.

“The threat came from McCarthy, the Republican leader, that if I were not willing to cut Social Security by the end of this year, then, in fact, they would not pay for the national debt and they would not extend the debt ceiling — meaning, for the first time in American history, we would in fact default on a debt and our credit as a nation would be demolished.”

So yes, while protecting democracy is an essential issue for those who rightfully fear the GOP’s assault on democratic institutions and values, Democrats must win over late-deciding voters, too. And there is nothing like a reminder that the economy could get a lot worse as Republicans revert to cutting taxes for the rich and starving government to motivate Americans to vote Democratic. Biden needs to keep that drumbeat going through Election Day.

Republicans in short want to impose the same kind of policies that have recently wreaked havoc in the UK.