Saturday, December 30, 2023

More Saturday Male Beauty


Trump Should be Removed From the Ballot

Maine and Colorado have ruled that Donald Trump, the center of an attempted insurrection against the government of the United States cannot be on the ballot in those states.  It goes without saying the Trump's challengers for the Republican nomination are falling all over themselves to condemn these rulings out of their ever present desire to pander to the MAGA base.  They and sadly and much more distressing many liberals and Democrats are falling on their fainting sofas and criticizing the rulings as "undemocratic" and ignoring (i) the fact that what Trump attempted was far more undemocratic, and (ii) the very clear language of the Fourteenth Amendment. They are repeating the mistakes of the opponents of Hitler in the late 1920's and first years of the 1930's while making a mockery of the rule of law.  Frighteningly, the ultimate decision on Trump's eligibility to be on ballots across the nation will fall to the U.S. Supreme Court, one of the most corrupt in America's history given its current make up with members only too open to what is tantamount to bribery by right wing billionaires and others.  A column in the Washington Post makes the argument of why Trump should be removed from the ballot.  Here are highlights:

The officials in Colorado and Maine who have ruled that Donald Trump should be removed from their state ballots because of the former president’s role in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol have done the right, courageous thing. They deserve praise for aggressively defending American democracy from Trump, which far too many others — including the Justice Department under President Biden — have failed to do.

Even some on the left have criticized the decisions to bar Trump from appearing on Republican primary ballots, describing them as “undemocratic” and an abuse of the 14th Amendment, which Colorado and Maine officials cited in the decisions. The amendment bars people from holding office who have “previously taken an oath … to support the Constitution of the United States” and then “engaged in insurrection or rebellion.”

Those arguments fail to grasp the threat that he poses and the gravity of his previous actions. We know from the House Jan 6. committee’s investigation, extensive media reporting, and state and federal investigations — not to mention our own eyes and ears — that Trump lost the 2020 election and instead of conceding defeat, tried to reverse the election results and remain in office. This was more than an abuse of power; it was an extraordinary, unprecedented violation of democratic values and principles.

We don’t live in a democracy if the loser of an election gets to stay in power — and that’s what Trump tried to do. He should never be allowed to be president again.

This is not a partisan argument. I strongly oppose Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R). His record suggests that he is not only more conservative, radical and anti-democratic than Trump, but also that DeSantis would be more effective than Trump in implementing his policies. But I don’t have any problem with DeSantis or any of the other current Republican candidates being on the ballot because none of them have tried to overturn the results of an election. 

Unless there is evidence that the authors of the 14th Amendment would have strongly opposed invoking the provision after a president’s words and actions encouraged an attack on the Capitol that would help him maintain power despite losing the election, we should defer to our present-day views of what counts as rebellion, insurrection and, more broadly, conduct that is unacceptable for a president.

In the 14th Amendment, we have a provision that is already on the books and that might allow us to keep Trump from ever being president again. We should use it.

The argument that doing so would be undemocratic is nonsense.  . . . . It cannot be a requirement of democracy that you allow the election of leaders who will then end free and fair elections — and therefore democracy itself.

It’s not ideal that Colorado state Supreme Court judges and Maine’s secretary of state, Shenna Bellows, have unilaterally acted to remove Trump from the ballot. That feels undemocratic. But in reality, these officials are only stepping in now to enforce democratic principles because for three years, so many others haven’t.

In 2021, the U.S. Senate by a two-thirds vote could have convicted Trump on the charge of “incitement of insurrection” that the House impeached him for. Then, by a simple majority vote, the Senate could have barred Trump from future office (though Trump likely would have contested such a decision in court). Instead, all but seven Republican senators voted against conviction. . . . most of them just didn’t want to cross pro-Trump voters in their states.

The Justice Department could have quickly moved to charge Trump with crimes. . . . The Justice Department conducted a slow-moving, bottom-up investigation of Jan. 6, charging lower-level people who entered the Capitol that day before moving to Trump. I understand that approach; it’s how many investigations go. But it was fairly obvious in 2021 that Trump would run for president again — in part to cast investigations into him as partisan.

The people who have most shirked their responsibility to defend democratic principles are Republican voters. They were presented this year with a slew of presidential candidates, many of whom are just as conservative or perhaps even more so than Trump, but who did not try to overturn American democracy. They could have turned to any of those candidates. Instead, they are overwhelmingly sticking with Trump.

It’s easy to suggest that the Colorado judges, who were appointed by Democratic governors, or Maine’s secretary of state, who is a Democrat, are just partisans. But no one thinks they would have removed DeSantis or former New Jersey governor Chris Christie from the ballot. These officials are correctly recognizing the seriousness of what Trump did nearly three years ago, and unlike Garland, they aren’t ducking their responsibilities to preserve their nonpartisan bona fides. And they aren’t using any means necessary, but instead a means clearly written in the Constitution.

These officials are not partisans, but patriots. . . . The real affront to democracy is Trump, not officials following laws intended to keep people like him from gaining power.

Saturday Morning Male Beauty


Friday, December 29, 2023

More Friday Male Beauty


We Can No Longer Pretend About Trump and the GOP

When Joe Biden was sworn in as president on January 20, 2021, many of us wanted to believe the long nightmare of Donald Trump was over.   Sadly, 2023 has proven that such thoughts were very mistaken and Trump and today's morally bankrupt, racist, homophobic and grievance driven  Republican Party now seem akin to Hitler and the Nazis in early 1930's Germany.  Hopes that the Trump nightmare would blow over or fade away with a new party leader emerging simply have not happened even as far too many Americans seem to be sleepwalking towards disaster.  I - and I suspect many others - have a continuing sense of fear and foreboding for good reason.  Indeed, yesterday the husband and I saw the Broadway show "Harmony" that depicts the story of the Comedian Harmonists which was an internationally famous, all-male German ensemble that performed between 1928 and 1934 as one of the most successful musical groups in Europe before World War II. Watching the show - which was VERY good and any anything but a fluff piece - and the depiction of the rise of Hitler I was struck by the frightening parallels between Germany back then and what is transpiring in America today.  A piece in The New Yorker reviews where we find ourselves in America on the eve of 2024 and the Republican Party's embrace of Trump.  Here are highlights:

Four years ago, on the threshold of a critical election year that would decide whether Donald Trump won another term in the White House, I asked a German friend, Constanze Stelzenmüller, of the Brookings Institution, to come up with one of those long Teutonic words for the state of constant, gnawing anxiety that Trump’s disruptive tenure inspired. She came back with a true mouthful, a thirty-three-letter concoction that pretty much summed it up: Trumpregierungsschlamasselschmerz. Helpfully, she suggested that it would be fine to shorten this to Trumpschmerz. It means something like “Trump-worry,” but on steroids.

At the start of this year, it was still possible to look at the facts and avoid falling back into this dark place. There were reasonable expectations that something, somehow could prevent the looming rematch between Trump and Joe Biden, who succeeded Trump but has never been acknowledged by the ex-President and millions of his followers as America’s legitimate leader. Perhaps Trump would finally face consequences for his unprecedented efforts to overturn the 2020 election results. Perhaps a strong Republican challenger would emerge against him. Perhaps Biden, who spent the first year of his tenure more unpopular than any other President in the history of modern polling—aside from Trump—and is already the oldest leader in U.S. history, would step aside in favor of a younger Democrat, rather than seek a second term. But none of that happened.

The most extraordinary development in American politics this year was, without a doubt, the indictment of Trump in four separate criminal cases, totalling ninety-one alleged felonies. He is not only the first former President charged with a crime; he ends 2023 accused by the federal government of essentially mounting a coup against that government.

All we can say definitively, so far, is that the indictments proved to be a political boon for him with his Republican Party. With just a few weeks until the beginning of the 2024 primaries, Trump now has what looks to be an insurmountable lead in the G.O.P. race, a lead that has only risen with each new case filed against him.

A year ago, the governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis, coming off a nineteen-point reëlection victory in a formerly competitive state, and boasting a hundred-million-dollar-plus war chest, looked to be a real prospect to knock off Trump. But he fared just about as well as Jeb Bush, another Florida governor with a hundred million dollars to spend against Trump. Which is to say: his candidacy has been a total dud.

The defining moment for this field of craven also-rans came during their first debate, in August, when the Fox News moderators asked for a show of hands as to who would support the indicted ex-President—“the elephant not in the room,” as Fox’s Bret Baier called him—were he to receive the nomination. Virtually all of them indicated they would. Needless to say, the two dissenters, Chris Christie and Asa Hutchinson, have no chance.

As of year’s end, the one non-Trump candidate to see her fortunes rise in the G.O.P. race has been the former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley. Despite having served in Trump’s Cabinet, she is often described as the closest thing the Party has left to its pre-Trump establishment—a hawkish, Chamber of Commerce type who is neither a culture warrior nor a MAGA acolyte. Talk about defining deviancy down. Haley is no avatar of the status quo ante but proof of how debased the party of Abraham Lincoln has become in its thrall to Trump. Just this week, Haley, when asked what caused the Civil War, told a voter in New Hampshire that it was about government “freedoms” and “what people could and couldn’t do.”

The only surprise is that anyone is surprised by this. In the first week of March, months before he was indicted by the Justice Department special counsel Jack Smith, Trump gave a speech to CPAC in which he promised a run centered on the theme of “retribution” for all the grievances nursed by him and his followers.

His message then, as later in the year, was simple and messianic: “This is the final battle.” The audience cheered and hooted and clapped. They were, like the bulk of the Republican Party, not Never Trumpers but Always Trumpers. The story of 2023 turned out to be not the G.O.P.’s search for another Trump but the persistent preference of a large majority of Republicans for the one they already have.

But if Trumpschmerz is our destiny again in 2024, the ex-President has also benefitted from his foes in 2023. DeSantis, despite the early hype from Fox News and the hopes of the Republican donor class, proved that negative charisma and terrible political judgment are not enough to run for President. He thought he was going to ride attacks on Mickey Mouse to the White House. Seriously?

Trump’s victory is by no means assured. It may well be that predictions of him winning in 2024 will turn out to be just as wrong as the forecasts of a recession were at the start of 2023. But the past few years of Trump, Trump, Trump have taught me, if nothing else, that hoping for the best is not necessarily a winning strategy. With American democracy on the line, I’m taking the only defensible position toward the New Year: full-scale dread. I plan to pull up the covers and hide under my pillow as long as possible come January. It’s going to be a long twelve months. 

Friday Morning Male Beauty


Thursday, December 28, 2023

More Thursday Male Beauty


America Has a Life Expectancy Crisis

America alone among its peers of so-called advanced developed nations has a declining life expectancy even as life expectancy is increasing in other peer nations.  There are numerous causes for America's singular decline in life expectancy - gun violence and a health care system driven by health insurance companies and their bough and paid for politicians that does little or nothing for preventive care being but two.  Meanwhile, many politicians refuse to see declining life expectancy as a national crisis and offer little policy wise to turn the trend around.  Worse yet many politicians, principally Republicans are pushing an agenda that will make matters only worse as they oppose or cut programs ranging from child nutrition programs, Medicaid expansion and social safety net programs so that they can deliver ever more tax cuts to the super wealthy and huge corporations. Insanely, many working class Americans (mostly white) continue to support Republican candidates and office holders who use "god, guns and gays" and a hefty dose of racism to dupe these voters into voting against their own interests and ultimately their own life expectancy.   A long article in the Washington Post looks at this national crisis and the sad reality that few in Congress appear inclined to address the problem.  Here are excerpts:

The commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration had an urgent message last winter for his colleagues, brandishing data that life expectancy in the United States had fallen again — the biggest two-year decline in a century.

Robert Califf’s warning, summarized by three people with knowledge of the conversations, boiled down to this: Americans’ life expectancy is going the wrong way. We’re the top health officials in the country. If we don’t fix this, who will?

A year after Califf’s dire warnings, Americans’ life expectancy decline remains a pressing public health problem — but not a political priority.

President Biden has not mentioned it in his remarks, according to a review of public statements; his Republican challengers have scarcely invoked it, either. In a survey of all 100 sitting senators, fewer than half acknowledged it was a public health problem. . . . no national strategy exists to reverse a years-long slide that has left the United States trailing peers, such as Canada and Germany, and rivals, such as China.

The Washington Post spoke with more than 100 public health experts, lawmakers and senior health officials, including 29 across the past three presidential administrations, who described the challenges of attempting to turn around the nation’s declining life expectancy. Those challenges include siloed operations that make it hard for public and private-sector officials to coordinate their efforts, a health-care payment system that does not reward preventive care and White House turnover that can interrupt national strategies.

Many suggested the nation needed an effort that would transcend political administrations and inspire decades of commitment, with some comparing the goal of improving life expectancy to the United States’ original moonshot.

“We’re no longer an America that talks about building a national highway system or sending a man to the moon, and yet it’s that kind of reach and ambition that we need to have to tackle the declining longevity problem,” said Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).

White House officials said the president and his team were focused on combating the “drivers” of life expectancy declines, pointing to efforts to reduce drug overdoses, create an office to prevent gun violence and other initiatives. A senior health official in the Biden administration said pledging to improve life expectancy itself “would have to be viewed as something for a legacy.”

No single reason explains why America’s life expectancy has declined, with chronic disease, poor nutrition, insufficient access to care and political decisions all linked to premature deaths. There also is no single strategy to turn it around — and no agreement on how to do it. Some public health leaders and policymakers have called for sweeping reforms to how the health-care system operates, while others home in on discrete factors such as lethal drug overdoses, which have spiked in recent years and received considerable attention but are not solely responsible for the decline in life expectancy.

The paralysis over how to address the nation’s declining life expectancy extends to Congress, where a handful of lawmakers — mostly Democrats — have repeatedly portrayed the slide as a crisis, but most other lawmakers have said little or nothing.

“We don’t talk about life expectancy, because it just makes it clear what kind of failed system we currently have,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who has repeatedly warned about the rise in premature deaths, including organizing a July 2021 Senate hearing on the issue. Just 11 of the panel’s 18 senators attended, several only briefly; just five asked questions.

Despite the flurry of legislation, the nation’s progress on life expectancy has stalled, with the United States increasingly falling behind other nations well before the pandemic. No senator has crafted a bill specifically intended to improve life expectancy or create goals for health leaders to reach.

Lawmakers have also worked at cross purposes, with Republicans fighting Democrats’ efforts to enact legislation linked to gains in life expectancy, including efforts to expand access to health coverage and curb access to guns. Sen. John Neely Kennedy (R-La.), whose state had the third-worst life expectancy in 2020, about 73 years, recently suggested that life expectancy would even go up for young Americans.

Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) has “no jurisdiction over this issue,” his office wrote in response to questions about whether Moran had views on declining life expectancy. Moran, who sits on the Senate panel that determines funding for health agencies, has cast votes on numerous health-care matters, including repeatedly voting to repeal the Affordable Care Act..

There is a notable partisan split in how members of Congress view life expectancy and whether they say urgent action is needed. Just 11 of the Senate’s 49 Republicans told The Post they believed that declining life expectancy was a public health problem.

The lawmakers who portray the recent decline as a crisis are often Democrats from states with the highest life expectancy — such as Massachusetts (79 years in 2020, according to federal data) and Vermont (78.8 years). Meanwhile, GOP lawmakers representing some of the states with the lowest life expectancy — Mississippi (71.9 years), West Virginia (72.8 years) and Kentucky (73.5 years) — declined to comment or did not respond to repeated questions about whether the issue represents a public health problem.

Sanders has repeatedly called for sweeping reforms, insisting in an interview that “a failed health-care system is tied into a corrupt political system dominated by enormously powerful corporate interests.”

Ten senators singled out the burden of chronic disease, echoing The Post’s own review, which found that among people younger than 65, chronic illness erases more than twice as many years of life as all the overdoses, homicides, suicides and car accidents combined.

Vasan and Schulman said HealthyNYC can be a template for other cities — the latest effort in New York’s long history of trying to tackle life expectancy. Under former mayor Mike Bloomberg, the city raised cigarette taxes, banned smoking in workplaces and attempted to limit sale of large sugary drinks. When Bloomberg left office in 2013, New Yorkers’ projected life expectancy was 81.1 years — more than two years longer than the national average — compared with 77.9 years when he took office in 2001.

But Bloomberg’s efforts provoked backlash from food-makers, industry groups and some elected officials. Even as New York took steps a decade ago to limit salt and soda consumption, GOP lawmakers in other states crafted legislation to prevent their own local leaders from taking similar steps.

Sanders, who has spent years pushing for sweeping changes to America’s health system and economy, said Washington’s work to boost life expectancy could begin with a simple framing device.

“The administration, the Congress should have upon their wall, a chart which says … ‘What’s our life expectancy now [and] how do we get up to the rest of the world?’” Sanders said. He pointed to Norway’s life expectancy of more than 83 years. “That should be our goal.”

Thursday Morning Male Beauty


Wednesday, December 27, 2023

More Wednesday Male Beauty


GOP Biggest Loser of 2023: Moms for Liberty

There have been numerous big political losers in 2023 ranging from George Santo's much deserved expulsion from Congress to Glenn Youngkin's face plant in trying to win control of the Virginia General Assembly - which seems to have quelled talk of him launching a presidential campaign.  Perhaps the most delicious and satisfying, however, is the implosion of "Moms for Liberty," a front group for right wing dark money that linked itself to Ron DeSantis and Glen Youngkin and played a over sized role in stoking hysteria over the teaching of accurate black history and a true picture of slavery and the Jim Crow Era  and the recognition that LGBT people exist and deserve to be recognized as a part of society. Perhaps most satisfying has been the ongoing sex scandal surround Moms for Liberty co-founder Bridget Ziegler that is shining a light on the never ending hypocrisy and general meanness of evangelicals - the group that whines the most about the "sanctity of Marriage" yet has the highest divorce rate of any demographic in America. The take away is that those who go out of their way to shame and condemn others usually have closets filled with all kinds of secrets that show the lie of the feigned piety and religiosity always worn on their sleeves.  A piece in Salon looks at the implosion of this particular group of hypocrites and would be censors.  Here are highlights: 

Bridget Ziegler co-founded Moms for Liberty with the goal of transforming staid school board meetings into high-octane right-wing agitprop. So it's fitting that her comeuppance arrived in the form of being read for filth to her face at a Sarasota County School Board meeting by one of her many victims, gay former Florida public school student Zander Moricz, in a clip that went viral in mid-December: “You don’t believe in public schools — you send your kids to private… you deserve to be fired not because of a threesome, but because you are terrible at it.”

On top of founding the infamous pro-censorship group, Ziegler has been serving as a school board member, while also working closely with Gov. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., to pass the notorious "don't say gay" law meant to put public school teachers and students back in the closet. She has also been busy with at least one same-sex encounter of her own, admitting to police that she had a three-way with another woman and her husband, Christian Ziegler, the chair of Florida's state Republican Party. Police are involved because the other woman has accused Christian Ziegler of raping her, in alleged retaliation after she declined to have sex with him without his wife present. 

Since there's no limit to Christian right hypocrisy, readers will not be surprised to hear that the couple who would ban books for others allegedly felt no shame about creating hardcore porn for themselves. Police reportedly recovered a video of Christian Ziegler and the accuser having sex. Now sources say police have a second video, of Bridget in bed with the unnamed woman. She was doing this while also terrorizing teachers in for advertising non-explicit LGBTQ-affirming events

Moricz managed to use Ziegler's sex life to humiliate her while making a larger point against using sex as a weapon against ordinary people. It was also a fitting obituary for Moms for Liberty, which may limp on for some time as an organization, but whose political power is disappearing along with Bridget Ziegler's ability to keep up the "chaste church lady" act. 

It seems harder to believe today, but two years ago, Moms for Liberty was widely regarded as the great electoral hope of the Republican Party. The pro-censorship/anti-mask group was founded in Florida in January 2021 by far-right Republican activists, including Zielger, passing themselves off as mere "concerned mothers." The ostensible target was public schools, demonized for "woke" curricula and temporary public health measures to control the spread of COVID-19.

The real goal? Republican victories in state and national elections. The Moms targeted school board meetings in swing states, throwing tantrums over made-up threats like "critical race theory," which is just a scare term for teaching the histories of segregation and slavery. Or to scream about "groomers," a slur term authoritarians use to falsely imply LGBTQ teachers are sexual predators. The theatrics would garner local news coverage and social media play, creating the illusion that schools were out of control with "political correctness." The hope was to stir up a moral panic that would lead to swing districts electing Republicans, all the way up to the White House. 

In November of 2021, Moms for Liberty scored big when Republican Glenn Youngkin won Virginia's gubernatorial race, running on a platform of annoyance over pandemic restrictions and fury that Black authors like Toni Morrison were being assigned in English class. This created a veritable mania in the GOP, which hoped that racist and homophobic panic, as well as lingering pandemic resentments, could be the key to winning over the mothers of school-age children. . . Moms for Liberty was lavished with money, attention, and acclaim, all in the hopes that their book-banning mania would be the key that unlocked future Republican victories. 

There was always good reason to be skeptical that the Moms were all they were cracked up to be. Post-election data showed that Youngkin did not actually get a surge of votes from parents angry about "woke" schools, but because elderly white people who were angry over Trump's loss turned out in large numbers, while other demographics, no doubt sick of politics, stayed home. Nor was there any evidence that the public had developed a sudden enthusiasm for censorship, as polls showed 83%-87% of voters opposed the Moms for Liberty-style book bans.

Sure enough, Moms for Liberty never made good on its promise to spin electoral gold out of culture war straw. The story of the past couple of years has been how much voters reject Christian right busybodies trying to control our sex lives, our reading material, and our right to ignore some unhinged church lady screaming about how the queers are trying to critically race theorize her precious white children.

It's almost too good to be true that the already wounded organization would meet its end with a sex scandal. As most people who follow politics know, the Republicans out there making the biggest stink about the supposedly sinful sex lives of others tend to have overstuffed closets of illicit secrets themselves. No doubt there are still some liberals who are anxious about talking about the Zieglers' love of three ways, fearing it violates the principle of not using people's private sex lives as political weapons. But, as Moricz deftly illustrated, there is one loophole: When a person has built a career on shaming and policing the sex lives of private citizens, feel free to go ham when you discover there's video evidence that they love three ways. 

Perhaps the lesson here is simple: Any Republican who wants to monitor our sex lives or reading habits must first hand their iPhone library over for public inspection. That would invite a blessed silence from the would-be arbiters of sexual morality. 

Wednesday Morning Male Beauty


Tuesday, December 26, 2023

More Tuesday Male Beauty - Pt 2


The Growing Menace of Christian Nationalism

Among the many things that make the Republican Party a threat to America's democracy is the party's unholy alliance with evangelicals and Christofascists - one might call them the "Christian Taliban" - who seek to inflict their corrupt and toxic version of Christianity which dwells on hatred of others on all Americans.  They seek to totally erase any remnants of the separation of church and sate and Republicans are only too willing to assist in this subversion of the First Amendment in order to gain the votes of people who are the antithesis of Christ's gospel message and who seek special privileges for themselves at the expense of everyone else, especially non-Christians  and those who reject their ugly beliefs.  A piece in The Atlantic authored by a former evangelical and the author of The Kingdom, The Power, and the Glory, which looks at the selling out of "conservative Christians" to Donald Trump and his message of grievance and hate, makes the case that the majority of Americans need to rally and come together to defeat Christian nationalism and the threat it poses to American democracy.   Here are column excerpts:

Speaking about American evangelicalism was never my intention. Having grown up steeped in Christianity’s right-wing subculture—the son of a megachurch minister, a follower of Jesus, someone who self-identified as “evangelical” since childhood—I was a reliable defender of the faith. I rejected the caricatures of people like my parents. I took offense at efforts to mock and marginalize evangelicals. I tried to see the best in the Church, even when the Church was at its worst.

It took the loss of my father, and the traumatic events surrounding his funeral—as I write in the prologue of my new book, The Kingdom, The Power, and the Glory, which is excerpted in our latest issue—to reconsider the implications of that silence.

The corruption of American Christianity is nothing new: Modern-day pharisees from Jerry Falwell Sr. to Paula White have spent 50 years weaponizing the gospel to win elections and dominate the country, exploiting the cultural insecurities of their unwitting brethren for political, professional, and financial gain, all while reducing the gospel of Jesus Christ to a caricature in the eyes of unbelievers.

The resulting collapse of the Church’s reputation in this country—with Sunday attendance, positive perceptions of organized religion, and the number of self-identified Christians all at historic lows—leaves evangelicals estranged from their secular neighbors like never before. Unbelievers might well prefer it this way. They might be tempted to shrug and move along, assuming that the crack-up of evangelicalism isn’t their problem. They are mistaken.

The crisis at hand is not simply that Christ’s message has been corroded, but that his Church has been radicalized. The state-ordered closings of sanctuaries during COVID-19, the conspiracy-fueled objections to Joe Biden’s victory in 2020, the misinformation around vaccines and educational curricula—these and other culture-war flash points have accelerated notions of imminent Armageddon inside American Christendom.

A community that has always felt misunderstood now feels marginalized, ostracized, even persecuted. This feeling is not relegated to the fringes of evangelicalism. In fact, this fear—that Christianity is in the crosshairs of the government, that an evil plot to topple America’s Judeo-Christian heritage hinges on silencing believers and subjugating the Church—now animates the religious right in ways that threaten the very foundations of our democracy.

“You sound like a hysterical maniac if you say the government’s coming after us. But I believe they are,” Robert Jeffress, the Dallas pastor and longtime Trump loyalist, told me in the book. . . . I believe there’s evidence that the Biden administration has weaponized the Internal Revenue Service to come after churches.” (The “evidence” Jeffress cited in making this leap—bureaucratic regulations clearing the way for concentration camps—was nonexistent. When pushed, he mentioned a single court case that was ultimately decided in favor of religious liberty.)

Mobilizing in response to this perceived threat, the forces of Christian nationalism—those who seek to demolish the wall between Church and state, asserting far-right religious dominion over the government as well as the country’s core institutions—are now ascendant both inside the Church and inside the Republican Party. It is no coincidence that, just recently, Donald Trump began suggesting that he would ban any migrant from entering the United States unless they are Christian. . . . . Many of the people poised to hold high-ranking posts in a second Trump administration don’t view today’s societal disputes through the lens of Republican versus Democrat or of conservative versus progressive, but rather of good versus evil.

Perhaps the only thing more dangerous than authoritarianism is authoritarianism infused with religious justification. It hardly matters whether the would-be tyrant is personally devout; Vladimir Putin’s lack of theology didn’t stop him from partnering with the Russian Orthodox Church to frame the bloody invasion of Ukraine as God’s ordained conquest of a satanic stronghold. To believe that it couldn’t happen here—mass conflict rooted in identitarian conviction and driven by religious zeal—is to ignore both 20th-century precedent and the escalating holy-war rhetoric inside the evangelical Church.

No matter your personal belief system, the reality is, we have no viable path forward as a pluralistic society—none—without confronting the deterioration of the evangelical movement and repairing the relationship between Christians and the broader culture.

Be very, very afraid of these people and their agenda of hatred, subjugation of others and perhaps far worse. 

More Tuesday Morning Male Beauty


The Colorado Supreme Court Got It Right

If the U.S. Supreme Court were not in the grips of a reactionary majority there, in my view, should be little doubt that the ruling of the Colorado Supreme Court barring Donald Trump from that state's ballot would be affirmed and the stage would be set to rid the Trump menace from the nation.  The Court's majority that pretends to be originalists would have no way to circumvent the very clear express language of the 14th Amendment that bars insurrectionists from office.  As more and more evidence of Trump's misdeeds continues to be brought forward and as everyone outside of the MAGA understands and saw with their own eyes, Trump intentionally unleashed a rabid and violent mob on the U.S. Capitol with one purpose: to stop the election he had lost and to illegally remain in office in violation of the U.S. Constitution and to in effect overthrow the government.   If the U.S. Supreme Court fails to affirm the Colorado ruling, then that Court should lose what little legitimacy it has remaining after Dobbs and other anti-democracy rulings.  A column in The Atlantic by George Conway lays out why the Colorado ruling is correct and must be affirmed.  Here are highlights:

When I review divided appellate-court decisions, I almost always read the dissenting opinions first. The habit formed back when I was a young law student and lawyer—and Federalist Society member—in the late 1980s, when I would pore (and, I confess, usually coo) over Justice Antonin Scalia’s latest dissents.

I came to adopt the practice not just for newsworthy rulings that I disagreed with, but for decisions I agreed with, including even obscure cases in the areas of business law I practiced. Dissents are generally shorter, and almost always more fun to read, than majority opinions; judges usually feel freer to express themselves when writing separately. But dissents are also intellectually useful: If there’s a weakness in the majority’s argument, an able judge will expose it, sometimes brutally, and she may make you change your mind, or at least be less dismissive of her position, even when you disagree. . . . . You can learn a lot from dissents.

Last night, I reviewed the three separate dissents in Anderson v. Griswold, the landmark 4–3 Colorado Supreme Court case holding that Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits Donald Trump from ever serving again as president of the United States. I had been skeptical of the argument, but not for any concrete legal reason. To the contrary, I believed the masterful article written by the law professors (and Federalist Society members) William Baude and Michael Stokes Paulsen had put the argument into play. . . . the Fourteenth Amendment clearly commands, in plain language, that Trump never hold federal office again.

The argument seemed somehow too good to be true. . . . But last night changed my mind. Not because of anything the Colorado Supreme Court majority said. The three dissents were what convinced me the majority was right.

The dissents were gobsmacking—for their weakness. They did not want for legal craftsmanship, but they did lack any semblance of a convincing argument.

For starters, none of the dissents challenged the district court’s factual finding that Trump had engaged in an insurrection. None of the dissents seriously questioned that, under Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment, Trump is barred from office if he did so. Nor could they. The constitutional language is plain.

Nor did the dissents challenge the evidence—adduced during a five-day bench trial, and which, three years ago, we saw for ourselves in real time—that Trump had engaged in an insurrection by any reasonable understanding of the term. And the dissenters didn’t even bother with the district court’s bizarre position that even though Trump is an insurrectionist, Section 3 doesn’t apply to him because the person holding what the Constitution itself calls the “Office of the President” is, somehow, not an “officer of the United States.”

Instead, the three dissenters mostly confined themselves to saying that state law doesn’t provide the plaintiffs with a remedy. But that won’t help Trump. This case seems headed for the Supreme Court of the United States, which has no authority to make definitive pronouncements about state law. In Colorado, the Supreme Court of Colorado has the last word on that. And it now has spoken.

Yet even the dissenters’ contentions about state law made little sense.

Every qualification necessarily establishes a disqualification. If the Constitution says, as it does, that you have to be 35 years of age to serve as president, you’re out of luck—disqualified—if you’re 34 and a half. By the same token, if you’ve engaged in an insurrection against that Constitution in violation of your oath to it, you’ve failed to meet the ironclad (and rather undemanding) requirement that you not have done that.

Boatright’s suggestion that the insurrection issue presents something too complex for Colorado’s election-dispute-resolution procedures is equally unconvincing. Reviewing the tabulation of statewide votes can be complicated . . . . It’s hard to imagine that assessing the undisputed record of Trump’s miscreance presents any more complexity than that.

And no stronger is Justice Carlos Samour’s suggestion that Trump was somehow deprived of due process by the proceedings in the district court. This was a full-blown, five-day trial, with sworn witnesses and lots of documentary exhibits, all admitted under the traditional rules of evidence before a judicial officer, who then made extensive written findings of fact under a stringent standard of proof. Every day in this country, people go to prison—for years—with a lot less process than Trump got here.

The closest the dissents come to presenting a federal-law issue that ought to give someone pause comes in Samour’s argument that Section 3 is not self-executing—that it can’t be enforced unless Congress passes a law detailing how it can be enforced. The majority opinion, though, along with Paulsen and Baude and Luttig and Tribe, have disposed of that argument many times over. All you need to do is to look, as any good Scalia-like textualist would, to the words and structure of the Fourteenth Amendment.

True, Section 5 of the amendment gives Congress the power to enact enforcement legislation. But nothing in the amendment suggests that such legislation is required . . . . To hold otherwise would mean that Section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment—which contains the more familiar prohibitions against state deprivations of equal protection and due process—would likewise have been born toothless. Which would mean that, if every federal civil-rights statute were repealed tomorrow, states could immediately start racially resegregating their schools. That’s not the law, and thankfully so.

So the dissents showed one thing clearly: The Colorado majority was right. I dare not predict what will happen next. But if Trump’s lawyers or any members of the United States Supreme Court want to overturn the decision, they’d better come up with something much, much stronger.

Tuesday Morning Male Beauty


Sunday, December 24, 2023

More Sunday Male Beauty


The Veil Lifted on the Shadow Groups that fuel Republican "Activism"

Democrats are no immune to sex scandals, but the number of such scandals pales in comparison to those seen among Republicans and evangelicals/Christofascists who preach an exclusionary form of Christianity that has little to do with Christ's message and everything to do with power and control over others and all too frequently self-enrichment.  The sex scandal now embroiling the Florida GOP chair and his wife, a founder of the dark money funded "Moms for Liberty" is but the latest example of the hypocrisy that is the norm among far too many activists on the political right.  "Do as I say and not as I do" might well be the mantra of these modern day Pharisees who busy themselves condemning and dehumanizing others while pursuing power and the money that so often follows.  The continuing scandal surrounding Christian and Bridget Ziegler also provides an unveiling of the shadow groups often unknow outside of GOP and Christofascist circles that recruit and fund far right activists who push a white Christian nationalist agenda and the anti-black, anti-gay, and anti-non-white messaging that seeks to divide the public and demean those labeled as "other."  A piece in The Atlantic looks at some of these shadow groups that launch those like falsely named "Moms for Liberty."  Here are highlights:

The ugly news broke during the last week of November: A Florida woman alleged that the chair of the state Republican Party had raped her at her home. The assault had occurred after he and his wife had planned, according to police, to meet her for a three-way sexual rendezvous, as they had previously.

These were stunning claims given the power couple involved: The GOP chair, Christian Ziegler, who has denied the assault and said the encounter was consensual, is a prominent state political consultant. His Republican-activist wife, Bridget Ziegler, is a founder of Moms for Liberty, the conservative political organization whose members have made school-board meetings partisan battlegrounds across America for the past two years.

The allegations have sparked a fusillade of condemnations, complaints of hypocrisy, and “Moms for Libertines” jokes. But the situation has also provided a window into the machinations of the movement that helped make the Zieglers so significant in Republican politics—thanks especially to the rapid rise of Moms for Liberty as a national organization.

Bridget Ziegler started Moms for Liberty with Tina Descovich and Tiffany Justice in January 2021, but she was soon wooed away. Within months, she was hired to help run school-board-campaign trainings at the Leadership Institute, an obscure but influential nonprofit.

The institute was founded in 1979 by Morton Blackwell, a longtime GOP activist . . . . Blackwell’s participation in the emerging New Right made him a crucial figure in the Reagan Revolution, Richard Meagher, a political-science professor at Randolph-Macon College, told me. Now 84, Blackwell still serves as president of the Leadership Institute, and is the Virginia GOP’s national committeeman.

The institute claims to have tutored more than a quarter of a million conservative operatives over the past five decades, including Karl Rove, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and former Vice President Mike Pence. Newly elected House Speaker Mike Johnson has also credited Blackwell for his career in Congress. And few people in Florida were as plugged-in as the Zieglers.

When the coronavirus pandemic prompted school administrators to keep kids at home, the institute developed new programs for training suburban women to wage school-board campaigns to keep schools open and masks off—a development that led to the recruitment of Bridget Ziegler, the tall, blond face of this new public arena of conservative activism.

The Leadership Institute exists alongside dozens of similar but better-known groups, such as the Heritage Foundation, a think tank; Turning Point USA, a youth organization; and the Family Research Council, a social-conservative group. Many of these organizations and their leaders are members of a conservative umbrella organization called the Council for National Policy, of which Blackwell was a founding member. The CNP is a secretive, invitation-only group that gathers conservative activists to coordinate political strategy, . . .

The Democratic Party, of course, has similar resources for training progressive candidates and furthering policy goals. But, Meagher said, the Democratic-aligned constellation is not nearly as ideologically coherent or disciplined as the groups that make up the CNP: “There is no analogy to that on the left.”

This interlocking structure of funding, training, and schmoozing is key to understanding the quick success of Moms for Liberty in American politics.

According to Ziegler and her colleagues, the organization was initially launched to address concerns that parents had about school closures and mask policies during the pandemic. But Moms for Liberty was quickly absorbed into the conservative movement’s broader network. Within days of its creation, Moms for Liberty was featured on Rush Limbaugh’s radio show. By June 2021, the group was hosting the political commentator Megyn Kelly for a “fireside chat” at Cape Canaveral, Florida. This early success and financial capability suggest that the group “had a lot of resources available that just are not available to other grassroots groups,” . . .

Recently, the group’s focus has shifted toward advocating against the teaching of gender, sexuality, and race in school curricula, and banning from school libraries certain books that mention those themes. This new front in the group’s campaigning has placed the allegations of sexual impropriety against the Zieglers in sharp relief. (“Never, ever apologize,” Christian Ziegler said during a presentation on dealing with the media at this year’s Mom’s for Liberty summit. “Apologizing makes you look weak.“)

The Leadership Institute has been an integral sponsor of both of Moms for Liberty’s annual summits—donating at least $50,000 in 2022 and serving again as a lead sponsor of the event in 2023—and it has provided training sessions to members. In short, Cunningham told me, “if there’s no Leadership Institute, there’s no Moms for Liberty.” Every year, the group awards a “liberty sword” for parents’-rights advocacy; this year in Philadelphia, Blackwell got the sword.

That recognition now appears unreciprocated. In the past three weeks, Bridget Ziegler seems to have been scrubbed, Soviet-style, from the Leadership Institute; her name has disappeared from the online staff directory.

There’s no question that her reputation in conservative politics has taken a hit. Even Moms for Liberty’s influence may have peaked for now, given some recent failures in school-board elections. But “what isn’t waning,” Cowen said, “is the influence of the groups behind them.”

Sunday Morning Male Beauty


Saturday, December 23, 2023

More Saturday Male Beauty


Russian Parents are Having Gay Children Abducted to be "Cured"

Vladimir Putin is the darling of numerous far right "Christians" in America because of his all out war on LGBT individuals in Russia and the manner in which he has given great deference to the always ultra-reactionary Russian Orthodox Church. While Putin commits war crimes in Ukraine, these American "Christians" cheer on his repression of the LGBT community and long for a similar regime in America - something Trump has promised them. One of the exports to Russia is the fraudulent myth of "conversion therapy," a cash cow from charlatans like Michelle Bachmann's husband and Speaker Mike Johnson's wife who run "Christian counseling" operations.  In the West and parts of the USA, the practice has been banned, especially for minors, because of the emotional and psychological damage that can lead to suicide - and often physical harm inflicted on the victims - that the fraudulent "cure" programs wreaks on those subjected to it.  Sadly, many Russian parents of gay children are seemingly embracing the conversion therapy lie either out of fear of what the Putin regime may do to their children or, just as likely, out of their own embarrassment at having gay offspring.  As a piece in the Washington Post reports, parents are even resorting to having their children abducted and force to undergo these dangerous and guaranteed to fail "cure" programs.   Here are highlights:

In Russia, where the entire LGBTQ+ community has been banned as “extremist,” some parents are paying thugs to abduct their queer sons and daughters, forcing them into secure private centers to “cure” them with so-called conversion therapy.

Some of these young people are fleeing the country, looking for safety in the West. Former residents say conditions behind high concrete walls are like small unregulated prisons, designed for alcoholics, drug addicts, or people whose families see them as problems.

Many were tricked or abducted, then held for months. They recounted being beaten, humiliated or forced to read out confessions that they were destructive and selfish because of their “addiction” to their sexual or gender identity — mimicking rigid programs designed to combat drug and alcohol addiction.

Many of them emerged “somehow mentally broken,” believing there was something wrong with them, said Vladimir Komov, who formerly served as a rights lawyer at a prominent LGBTQ+ legal advocacy group DELO LGBT+, which shut its operations last week due to the ban.

A 2020 report by an independent United Nations expert found that conversion therapy was “deeply harmful … inflicting severe pain and suffering and resulting in long-lasting psychological and physical damage.” The report called for a global ban.

In President Vladimir Putin’s move to cement his rule and build a repressive, deeply conservative nation, he has singled out LGBTQ+ people as scapegoats alongside antiwar activists.

But the rhetoric is also part of Putin’s bid to enlist socially conservative nations in Africa and the Middle East to back Russia in its war against Ukraine. At the same, he hopes to divide liberal Western democracies by encouraging antipathy to LGBTQ+ rights.

In a Nov. 30 ruling, Russia’s Supreme Court endorsed a Justice Ministry application to ban the “international LGBT public movement” as an extremist organization, following other repressive laws. After the ruling, police raided LGBTQ+ venues in Moscow.

Before its closure, DELO LGBT+ handled 200 monthly requests for legal help from queer people. Of these requests, 7 percent said their families threatened to put them into treatment centers, tried to do so or had done so in the past, the group said. “After these laws, the number of people facing threats to be put in such institutions has increased,” Komov said.

Ada Blakewell, a 23-year-old transgender . . . . underwent nine months of conversion treatment, from August 2022 until May 2023, in a remote treatment center, Freedom Rehabilitation Center, in the Altai region of Siberia.

Those undergoing the treatment had to swim in the river daily at 8 a.m. before morning prayers, even in winter in subfreezing temperatures. She was given “manly” jobs like chopping wood and helping slaughter chickens, turkeys and pigs “to help myself to become a man.”

In one disturbing incident, she was forced to castrate a pig, after being told that she would see what transgender surgery was like.

“I was given a surgical knife and given instructions how to do it,” she said. “But I couldn’t finish it. I had a severe panic attack and from then on, I was getting more and more suicidal.”

Alexandra, 28, a Moscow transgender woman whose wealthy parents also rejected her gender identity, was forcibly held in several treatment centers for 21 months.

The accounts by Blakewell and by Alexandra could not be independently verified but were consistent with previous accounts in Russian independent media and by international rights groups about conversion therapy centers in Russia.

Blakewell said she had been tricked into going to the center by her mother, a business executive, who asked her to support her during heart surgery in a rural area of the Altai region. Her mother got out of the car. A hefty, thuggish man then pressed Blakewell against the door, the locks snapped shut and her phone, Apple watch and backpack were taken.

As they drove to the treatment center, the driver told her it was time to atone for being queer, using an offensive epithet. “I still feel really bitter toward my family,” Blakewell said. Alexandra faced similar deception.

Conversion therapy has been banned in 22 U.S. states and in 12 countries, with many others planning national bans, according to Global Equality Caucus, an international network of lawmakers that supports equal rights for LGBTQ+ people.

Last month, Konstantin Boikov, a lawyer with DELO LGBT+, fled Russia for New York after homophobic threats and abuse. (He does not identify as gay.) Tomatoes and eggs were hurled at his apartment door, and abusive notes and severed chicken heads were also left there.

He said he feared imprisonment by Russian authorities or homophobic violence if he stayed.

“The state is trying to convince the population that all the country’s ills all come from these enemies,” Boikov said, “so that people unite around one leader, without thinking.”

Alexandra was freed in June after she broke a staircase fitting and threatened managers that she would continue to break more things unless she was released. Her parents still shun her.

Blakewell escaped a month after she was abducted but was quickly caught and beaten so severely some of her teeth were broken. She tried twice more and was beaten again. She won her freedom by calling police from a staffer’s cellphone that was left lying around, insisting on rescue until they finally came.

Frighteningly, Putin's "Christian" admirers long to bring similar horrors to America.