Saturday, March 25, 2023

More Saturday Male Beauty - Pt 2


Utah Parent: Remove Bible From Schools: "It’s Pornographic"

One Utah parent - who is remaining anonymous, likely to protect against death threats by the "godly folk" - is seeking to turn that state's book banning law against the Christofascist backers of such laws.  The parent has submitted an objection to the bible which is filled with violence, sex and general miscogyny and requested that it be removed from their child's school library.  The Christofascist backers of these laws (in Utah the driving force is "Utah Parents United") and their Republican political whores have consistently targeted books featuring blacks and racism and, of course, LGBT individuals so it is far past time that the book banning law be turned on a book filled with sex and violence, including the slaughter of women and children.  A piece at MSN looks at the novel challenge to the bible, a book that has caused so much human misery through history, which, in my view needs to be targeted in every state pushing book bans (it has been successfully removed in some school distracts).  Here are article excerpts:

God’s bestseller is next up on the chopping block. A Utah parent is calling for the Bible to be banned in school districts, claiming it violates the state’s 2022 law regarding “sensitive material.”

“Get this PORN out of our schools!” pleas the anonymous parent in their scathing request to Davis High School, calling the Bible the “one of the most sex-ridden books around.”

Utah’s law HB0374, passed last year, prohibits materials that include “pornographic or indecent” content.  The parent cited the Bible’s “incest, onanism, bestiality, prostitution, genital mutilation, fellatio, dildos, rape and even infanticide” as cause for its removal.

The disgruntled parent wrote to the school board on Dec. 11, per the original document obtained by the Salt Lake Tribune this month. Referencing the non-profit group Utah Parents United, which has routinely advocated for the removal of certain books — including ones with LGBTQ content — on various social media platforms, the parent called the organization a “white supremacist hate group.”

“Utah Parents United left off one of the most sex-ridden books around: The Bible,” the statement continued, noting a “gap” in the long list of banned books. However, in the religious text, there are a few instances where sex is not only mentioned but described.

A man named Lot has drunken sex with his daughters (Genesis 19:30-32); a woman is condemned for her “nakedness” and “whoring” (Ezekiel 23:18-21); God smites the city of Sodom after a group of men seemingly requests to have sex with other men (Genesis 19); and there were multiple references in the Song of Songs about breasts (among them, 1:13, 4:5, 4:16, 5:4, 7:7-8).

The anonymous person submitted an eight-page list of their own for review, which cited and quoted specific biblical passages that described, alluded to or depicted scenarios that could be considered “offensive,” they claimed.

“You’ll no doubt find that the Bible, under Utah Code Ann. § 76-10-1227, has ‘no serious values for minors’ because it’s pornographic by our new definition,” the Utah parent wrote.

“If the books that have been banned so far are any indication for way lesser offenses, this should be a slam dunk.” Numerous book titles have been targeted for banning throughout the US. Rep. Ken Ivory (R), who sponsored the state’s book ban bill, called the parent’s Bible ban request “a backhanded slap to parents that are simply trying to keep a healthy learning environment for all students in the schools.”

“I have every confidence that no school district is going to consider the Bible as violating 76-10-1227,” he added, referencing the section of the law that describes sex acts or sexual immorality.

The parent’s snarky letter of concern comes as more book bans are introduced throughout the nation – at the dismay of some bibliophiles who believe banning books does more harm than good.

In November 2022, the Keller Independent School District in Texas banned literature on gender fluidity.  Just a few months prior, the same district pulled an illustrated version of Anne Frank’s diary, along with 40 other titles, from its shelves – including the Bible.

Multiple people complained that the Christian text included “inappropriate” content.  One person listed “sexual content, violence including rape, murder, human sacrifice misogyny, homophobia, discrimination, and other inappropriate content” as cause for its removal, a district spokesperson previously told The Post.

Another argued that the holy book is “a map to slavery, incest, sex between donkey and women, misogyny, murder, pedophilia you name it, it’s in there.”

Just last year, the American Library Association (ALA) reported a surge in book banning, reporting 681 attempted bans or restrictions of libraries texts between Jan. 1 and Aug. 31 of 2022. A staggering 1,651 different titles were targeted in that 12-month period alone, the organization noted.

The frustrated Utah parent also referenced the Davis School District’s recent investigation of racism. In 2021, the US Department of Justice determined that Utah’s second-largest district ignored “serious” and “widespread” racism that occurred within the schools. In fact, the DOJ “found severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive race-based harassment by staff in several District schools and services.” It also concluded that the “District left students of color vulnerable to continued abuse.”

More Saturday Male Beauty


The GOP Race to Put More Children to Work

If one believes the lies of Republican elected officials pushing for book bans, "don't say gay" laws and bans on proper medical treatment for transgender minors, their goal is to "protect children" who they view as chattel property of their parents.  If one wants vivid proof that these same Republicans in reality care nothing for the welfare of children, one need look no farther the on-going Republican effort to gut child labor laws and allow big business to further line its pockets working children in dangeous jobs, often with reduced pay. The sad truth is that these Republican's do not give a rat's ass about the welfare of children and only seek to thrill the evangelical/Christofascist segment of the party base and to aid big businesses in further enrich themselves. The physical safety and lives of children is nowhere on the GOP radar save for bloviating talking points used to justify legislation harmful to racial and sexual minorities hated by the party base.   A main editorial in the New York Times looks at the GOP's dangerous race to put children to work, often risking the lives and safety of those they disingenuously claim to seek to protect.  The dishonesty and hypocrisy is off the charts.  Here are editorial highlights:  

In February, the Department of Labor announced that it had discovered 102 teenagers working in hazardous conditions for a company that cleans meatpacking equipment at factories around the country, a violation of federal standards. The minors, ages 13 to 17, were working with dangerous chemicals and cleaning brisket saws and head splitters; three of them suffered injuries, including one with caustic burns.

Ten of those children worked in Arkansas, including six at a factory owned by the state’s second-largest private employer, Tyson Foods. Rather than taking immediate action to tighten standards and prevent further exploitation of children, Arkansas went the opposite direction. Earlier this month, Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, a Republican, signed legislation that would actually make it easier for companies to put children to work. The bill eliminated a requirement that children under 16 get a state work permit before being employed, a process that required them to verify their age and get the permission of a parent or guardian.

Arkansas is at the vanguard of a concerted effort by business lobbyists and Republican legislators to roll back federal and state regulations that have been in place for decades to protect children from abuse. Echoing that philosophy, bills are moving through at least nine other state legislatures that would expand work hours for children, lift restrictions on hazardous occupations, allow them to work in locations that serve alcohol, or lower the state minimum wage for minors.

The response in these states is not to protect those children from exploitation, but instead to make it legal. Voters in these states may support deregulation, but they may not know that businesses can use these bills to work children harder, cut their wages and put them in danger.

Ms. Sanders, formerly the press secretary for President Donald Trump, made clear in her inaugural address in January the disdain for the protective role of government that is driving this effort.

Lawmakers in these states have been vigorously lobbied by industry groups who like the flexibility of teenage employees and say that more children are needed in the work force to make up for labor shortages. One of the principal lobbying organizations pushing these bills in several states is the National Federation of Independent Business, a conservative group that supports Republican candidates and has long opposed most forms of regulation, as well as the Affordable Care Act.

The real target of these rollbacks is not after-school jobs at the corner hardware store; they will have a much bigger effect on a labor force that includes many unaccompanied migrant children who work long hours to make or package products sold by big companies like General Mills, J. Crew, Target, Whole Foods and PepsiCo. As a recent New York Times investigation documented, children are being widely employed across the country in exhausting and often dangerous jobs working for some of the biggest names in American retailing and manufacturing.

Hundreds of children described in the Times report were working in violation of federal labor standards, which bar child workers from a long list of hazardous jobs and forbid children under 16 from working more than three hours a day or after 7 p.m. on school days unless they work on a farm. (Those under 14 are prohibited from working in all but a handful of jobs.)

A 13-year-old who was burned with caustic chemicals while working for Packers Sanitation Services in Nebraska told investigators the accident occurred during a shift that lasted from 11 p.m. to 5 or 7 a.m., a direct violation of multiple federal laws. The Labor Department imposed a $1.5 million fine on the cleaning company, which is owned by Blackstone, one of the world’s largest private equity firms.

Despite the evidence that more children are being exploited and hurt in this way, state lawmakers are passing bills that defy the federal standards. They are inviting a court challenge, and, in effect, daring the Labor Department to come after them, knowing the department often lacks the manpower to prevent violations of federal law. The Ohio Senate, which passed a bill earlier this month extending working hours for minors under 16, in violation of federal standards, also approved a resolution urging Congress to do the same.

One of the worst bills, introduced by Republicans in Iowa, would allow 14-year-olds to work in industrial freezers, meat coolers and industrial laundries, and 15-year-olds to lift heavy items onto shelves. It is backed by, among others, the independent business federation, the Iowa Grocery Industry Association, and Americans for Prosperity, a conservative advocacy group backed by Charles Koch . . . .

If states will not perform a role that has been fundamental for a century — protecting workers from abuse — the federal government will have to increase its efforts to do so. . . . The Labor Department said it would intensify its investigations of business violations, not just by direct employers of children but also by the larger companies that contract with those employers, or that use children in their supply chain. In many cases, big companies use contractors or staffing agencies to hire children and then claim they had nothing to do with the abuses. . . . The companies that hire them should be held accountable. The department also has the authority to seize any products that are made using illegal child labor, even through the use of contractors. Seema Nanda, the department’s chief legal officer, said in an interview that it would use that authority aggressively, as well as every other litigation tool available.

The administration has asked Congress for more enforcement money in its current budget, and for higher penalties. Neither request is likely to be granted, and immigration reform seems far in the distance. Protections against “oppressive child labor,” however, have been part of American law since the Fair Labor Standards Act was passed in 1938; dismantling those safeguards now puts young lives at risk.

Saturday Morning Male Beauty


Federal Lawsuit Challenges Florida Ban on Gender-Affirming Care

In Florida Republicans' quest to pander to and thrill the evangelicals and Christofascists in their party's increasingly hideous base, tansgender and other LGBT Floridians are being vicously targeted with not a shred of concern over the very real harm being done to their victims.  Four mothers of transgender children have filed a federal lawsuit seeking to overturn Florida's politically motivated ban on all gender-affirming care for those under 18 years of age.  Meanwhile, due to the racist policies of the DeSantis regime and the effort to erase blacks from history, the Florida NAACP has asked the national body to issue a travel advisory telling Black Americans not to enter Florida, citing concerns over what they call “anti-black legislation.”  Frankly, it's about time that LGBT travelers avoid the state as well - yes, I know the argument about supporting gay-friendly businesses and destinations, but real economic pain needs to be inflicted on Florida and residents who support the state's turn toward fascism.  A piece in Florida Politics looks at the new federal lawsuit that seeks to udo Republicans' and DeSantis' harmful anti-transgender policies.  Here are highlights:  

Four families challenging Florida’s prohibition against puberty-blocking hormones and gender-affirming surgeries for minors filed a federal lawsuit Thursday against state health officials.

The lawsuit filed in Tallahassee federal court against Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo and the state boards of medicine and osteopathic medicine claims the ban violates the equal protection clause of the Constitution by singling out transgender minors and blocking them from obtaining medically necessary care for gender dysphoria.

The Florida Department of Health and the Governor’s office didn’t respond to messages seeking comment.

“This ban puts me and other Florida parents in the nightmare position of not being able to help our child when they need us most,” one parent said in a statement.

The anonymous plaintiffs are four mothers with transgender children, ages 9 to 14, from St. Johns, Alachua, Duval and Orange counties. They’re being represented by Southern Legal Counsel, GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders, the National Center for Lesbian Rights and the Human Rights Campaign.

The families are seeking a preliminary injunction, asking the federal court to halt the policy while their case against it proceeds. At least nine states have enacted laws restricting or banning gender-affirming care for minors: Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Georgia, Iowa, Mississippi, Tennessee, Utah and South Dakota. A proposed ban is pending before Kentucky’s Democratic governor. Federal judges have blocked enforcement of laws in Alabama and Arkansas, and nearly two dozen states are considering bills this year to restrict or ban care.

Last summer, Ladapo and the Florida health department asked the state boards of medicine and osteopathic medicine to ban all treatment of gender dysphoria for people under 18 years of age. The boards went on to adopt formal rules prohibiting all access to puberty blocking hormones and gender-affirming surgeries for minors.

“This policy came about through a political process with a predetermined conclusion, and it stands in direct contrast to the overwhelming weight of the evidence and science,” Southern Legal Counsel attorney Simone Chriss said in a statement.

According to the lawsuit, the bans contradict guidelines established through years of clinical research and recommended by every major medical association including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

Thursday, March 23, 2023

More Thursday Male Beauty


Republicans’ Stunning Misogyny and Ignorance

While Florida Republicans continue to lead the way towards a return to some of the worse aspects of the early 1950's, many other Republican controled red states are not far behind and at the national level some Republicans seem fine with a return of child labor.  The culture war against modernity and equality is aimed at pandering to the toxic evangelical/Christofascist and white supremacist base of the modern GOP (with no regard of whom they harm), but it is also powered by religious zealots like Justice Samuel Alito and extreme scamvangelists who line their pockets peddling misogyny and ignorance and who frighteningly hold growing sway in the GOP.  A piece at CNN looks at the nightmare playing out in Florida where Ron DeSantis now wants to bar any discussion of gender and sexuality all the way through grade 12 and where girls cannot mention their monthly periods at school. Other GOP controled states are likely to follow.  Meanwhile, a piece in the Washingtom Post looks at the growing Republican love for child labor largely motivated by a desire to further enrich big business.   The harm done to child workers nowhere on the radar screen.  First these highlights from CNN:

The Florida GOP is on a truly stunning tear of misogyny, ignorance, homophobia and censorship, culminating in a bill that just passed the Florida House that would bar young girls from discussing menstruation, including their own menstrual periods, in school. Fifty three years since Judy Blume wrote “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret,” some Republican legislators still seem less comfortable with puberty and sexuality than pre-teen girls . . .

The Florida bill states that education around sex, reproduction and sexuality cannot begin until 6th grade. On Wednesday, when Florida state Rep. Ashley Gantt, a Democrat, asked her Republican colleague who sponsored the legislation, state Rep. Stan McClain, if the bill means that girls who get their periods before sixth grade couldn’t discuss that in school, he said yes.

“So if little girls experience their menstrual cycle in fifth grade or fourth grade,” she asked, “will that prohibit conversations from them since they are in the grade lower than sixth grade?”  “It would,” McClain said.

Half of American girls get their first period before their 12th birthday. And girls who menstruate early are also more likely to be sexually active at a younger age.

In Florida, those girls – who arguably need the most support as their bodies develop earlier than those of their peers – are being told by people in power that they have to keep their mouths shut about what they’re experiencing. If the bill passes the full legislature, Florida would be legislating shame.

This isn’t an isolated decision. Florida Republicans are legislating shame around adult women’s bodies, too, as they attack abortion rights (it’s an interesting and telling strategy to cut off information about sexuality and reproduction, which we know can increase rates of unintended pregnancy, while also beginning to limit abortion access). Republicans are legislating shame when they declare many beloved and important books to be “obscene” or inappropriate because those books contain LGBT characters, or information about American history and racism. Florida Republicans are legislating shame when they ban transgender teenagers, their parents and their doctors from collaborating on the best medical care to keep them safe and healthy.

In practical terms, limiting the information that young people can access about their own bodies may mean higher rates of unsafe sex and the related rises of unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases – states that have historically mandated abstinence-only curriculum, for example, have seen higher teen pregnancy rates than those that taught comprehensive sex ed.

Limiting the discussion in schools about the realities of maturing bodies doesn’t make young people less curious. It just sends the message that normal curiosity is deviant and dangerous; that women and girls are less valuable and worthy of basic dignity than others; and that honesty about one’s body is unacceptable.

These are not good values to impart to our young people. And it’s especially rich that Florida Republicans are also spending significant time obsessing over the biology of kids who are trans or nonbinary – proposing legislation that requires, for example, that teachers refer to students only by the pronouns that match their birth sex, and that would ban gender-affirming care for teens – while being apparently so fearful of female biology that they pass legislation banning young girls from discussing it.

These efforts are not happening in a vacuum, and they are not doing much at all to protect children. Children, like all of us, do not benefit from an ethos of stigma and shame. They do not grow in darkness; they wither. They are not safer in silence; they simply lack the language to describe what they’re experiencing, thinking and wondering. That can open up potential for abuse.

Most girls and women menstruate, or will menstruate once they mature; this is not a sexualized fact and should not be a source of shame. It is a fact of life. That Republicans in Florida choose to shroud this reality and to force young people into silence says very little about any inherent shame in menstruation or living in a female body. It says everything about the legislators’ fears and anxieties about girls and women knowing themselves, their sexuality and having knowledge itself. And it’s that sad and narrow view – not menstruation – that should be treated as shameful.

As noted, the GOP's faux concern and hypocrisy about "protecting children" extends to a new embrace of child labor.  Here are excerpts from the Washington Post (mote how children are deemed the chattel property of their parents):

“A self-supporting and self-respecting democracy can plead no justification for the existence of child labor,” wrote Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1937, as he sent the legislation known as the Fair Labor Standards Act to Congress. With the bill, which also established a national minimum wage, lawmakers condemned the ghastly practice of children toiling on factory floors to the past.

But American child labor is making a comeback. Underage children are operating fryers in restaurant kitchens and assembling parts at auto plants. Last month, when the New York Times published a blockbuster expose on how some of the nation’s most prominent companies depend on subcontractors who illegally employ migrant children, it brought attention to an ongoing horror. The Economic Policy Institute recently crunched Labor Department data and discovered an almost 300 percent increase in child labor violations since 2015.

But whether children should work more hours in dangerous jobs appears to be settling in as a partisan issue. Republicans in statehouses nationwide are racing to make it easier for companies to hire youngsters. This isn’t just an attempt, as proponents claim, to address post-pandemic worker shortages while freeing teens to earn pocket money. It is part of an ongoing campaign to roll back worker protections.

In Arkansas, Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders has signed legislation doing away with regulations demanding 14- and 15-year-old teens receive a work permit before taking on paid employment. A bill in Ohio seeks to allow 14- and 15-year-olds to work until 9 p.m. during the school year, in defiance of federal law. In Minnesota, a Republican legislator introduced legislation to let the construction industry recruit 16- and 17-year-old workers. In Iowa, a bill in the state’s House of Representatives would make it easier to employ 14-year-olds in the meatpacking industry.

[N]ot a single Republican has signed onto legislation recently introduced by Senate Democrats that would significantly increase the fines on companies for violations of child labor laws, from the maximum of $5,000 per violation up to $132,270 for routine violations, and from $15,138 to $601,150 when children are seriously injured or killed on the job.

In addition to claiming expanded paid work for teens is a win-win for employers and financially needy children, advocates are draping their appeals in the language of parental rights. That’s right — the same logic that dictates parents should be able to protect vulnerable teens by blocking controversial library books, sex ed and the full racial history of the United States. Requiring work permits for children under 16 “steps in front of parents’ decision-making process,” said the Arkansas state representative who spearheaded the successful measure there.

That’s disingenuous. “The party that is so concerned about children and what they are hearing and reading in schools, they are the same party that is pushing all these bills,” says Judy Conti, director of government affairs for the National Employment Law Project.

In reality, all this family talk is there to obscure the bottom line. “Child labor allows business owners to reduce average wages, while pretending they’re just providing opportunities,” says historian Erik M. Conway, co-author of the book “The Big Myth: How American Business Taught Us to Loathe Government and Love the Free Market.”

The hypocrisy and misogyny of today's GOP appears to be limitless.

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Thursday Morning Male Beauty


More Wednesday Male Beauty


How Big a Deal Is the Banking Mess?

Just as the economy seemed to be perhaps stabilizing along come bank failures - failures that argue strongly against the Republican Party's never ending mantra of deregulation of banks (this happened during the Trump regime), safety regulations and much more.  The exception of course is Republicans want total regulation of womens' bodies,  books children can read in school, and what courses and rewritten history universities can teach. The dicotomy is stunning.  But back to banks.  The question now facing everyone is whether the bad investing - and likely greed - that brought on recent bank failures is widespread or not, and what exactly will the Federal Reserve and other central bans do to stabilize the situation.  A column in the New York Times lays out why things are different from the 2008-2009 meltdown and there is reason for concern but also no immediate need to panic.   Here are highlights:

[A]s everyone knows, Silicon Valley Bank — not a huge institution, but an integral part of the tech industry’s financial ecosystem — has been taken over by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation after facing a classic bank run. Signature Bank soon followed; First Republic Bank is under severe pressure. Swiss authorities have arranged a takeover of Credit Suisse, a major bank, by its rival UBS. And everyone is wondering what other land mines may be about to go off.

There will and should be many inquests into how and why these banks managed to get into so much trouble. In the case of S.V.B. it appears that regulators had known for some time that the bank was a problem case, but for some reason didn’t or couldn’t rein it in.

But the more pressing question is forward-looking. How much does the banking mess change economic conditions? How much should it change economic policy?

Some commentators — mainly, as far as I can tell, cryptocurrency enthusiasts — are issuing apocalyptic warnings about hyperinflation and the imminent collapse of the dollar. But that’s almost certainly the opposite of the truth. When depositors pull their money out of banks, the effect is disinflationary, even deflationary. That’s certainly what happened in the early years of the Great Depression . . .

The savings-and-loan crisis of the 1980s wasn’t a Depression-level event, largely because depositors were generally insured, so they were made whole (at taxpayers’ immense expense) despite huge industry losses. Even so, the crisis may have curbed business lending, especially in the commercial real estate industry, contributing to the 1990-91 recession.

And the financial crisis of 2008 — which was functionally a bank run even though the crisis centered on “shadow banks” rather than traditional depository institutions — was also disinflationary and helped bring on the worst economic slump since the Great Depression.

So how does the current mess compare? It will definitely impose a drag on the economy. But how big a drag? And how much should it change policy, in particular the interest rate decisions of the Federal Reserve?

The answer is simple: Nobody knows.

Here’s what we do know: Depositors don’t seem to be demanding cash and putting it under their mattresses. They are, however, moving funds out of small and medium-size banks, to some extent into big banks, and to some extent into money market funds

Both types of institution are likely to do less business lending than the smaller banks now under pressure. Big banks are more tightly regulated than smaller banks, required to have more capital (the excess of assets over liabilities) and more liquidity (a higher proportion of their assets devoted to investments that can readily be converted into cash).

Add in the likelihood that even banks that haven’t experienced a run on their deposits will become much more cautious, and we’re probably looking at a serious reduction in credit. In effect, banking turmoil will act a lot like a rate hike by the Fed.

But how big an effective rate hike? I’m seeing smart, well-informed people produce numbers that are all over the place.

However, the direction of the shock seems clear. I wrote a couple of weeks ago that the Fed is creeping its way through a dense data fog, trying to steer between the Scylla of inflation if it tightens too little and the Charybdis of recession if it tightens too much

But clearly the risk of recession has gone up and the risk of inflation has gone down. So it makes sense for the Fed to steer somewhat to the left.

What this probably means in practice is that the Fed should pause its rate hikes until there’s more clarity about both the inflation picture and the effects of the banking mess — and it should be clear that that’s what it is doing.

There doesn’t seem to be much danger that the Fed will lose its inflation-fighting credibility if it takes time to get its bearings. Inflation expectations are looking very well anchored

Should the Fed go further and actually cut rates? Even though I’m generally a monetary dove, I wouldn’t call for an actual cut, at least just yet. Among other things, that might convey a sense of panic.

And even though the wave of bank problems has shocked almost everyone, panic doesn’t seem like the right response.

For what it’s worth — and these may be famous last words — I’m actually somewhat reassured by the way policymakers have been responding to the current wave of banking problems. . . . we’re talking about conventional banks that can be and have been seized by the F.D.I.C., protecting depositors without letting shareholders off the hook.

The upshot is that so far, at least, this doesn’t look like a full-blown financial crisis. Stay tuned, though.

Wednesday Morning Male Beauty


Tuesday, March 21, 2023

More Tuesday Male Beauty


Will Indictment Harm Donald Trump?

There is a running debate over whether a criminal indictment of Donald Trump helps or hurts his political situation, with many in the GOP saying it is a plus for his prospects.  Yes, an indictment keeps Trump in the news cycles - something his sick ego loves - and it will rally his most devoted followers in the MAGA base who will view an indictment that Trump and by extension themselves are being persecuted. How it plays out with a majority of voters, however, may prove to be different, especially as it reminds voters of Trump's sleaziness and the constant chaos he thrives on.  His calls for "protests" - translation, violence and riots - further underscores to such voters why they want Trump to simply disappear forever.  Add to this the rejection of Trump endorsed candidatesand election deniers in the 2022 mid-term elections and an indictment highlights Trump's toxiciuty of Trump to moral, sentient voters (a group that excludes Trump's evangelical and white supremacist base). A piece in The Atlantic looks at the ongoing debate.  Here are excerpts:

Prominent Republicans disagree about a lot these days, but on one point they have found consensus: Getting charged with a crime would be great news for Donald Trump.

After the former president predicted that he will be arrested in Manhattan tomorrow—a forecast that seems questionable, though an indictment from Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg does seem to be imminent—conventional wisdom quickly developed on the right that Trump would be the big winner.

At National Review, Rich Lowry announced, “It’s going to be very bad for the country and good politically—at least in the short term and perhaps for the duration—for Donald J. Trump.” (Lowry didn’t bother to offer any basis for this claim.)

The former Trump spokesperson Taylor Budowich, now running a pro-Trump super PAC called MAGA Inc., said in a statement that an indictment “will not only serve to coalesce President Trump’s support, but it will become the single largest in-kind contribution to a federal campaign in political history.”

Other Republican contenders for president didn’t make predictions quite so firm, but they either hastened to criticize Bragg or kept their mouth shut, both indications that they see this as a moment of strength for Trump, rather than a good opening to bury their own daggers in a weakened rival’s back.

You are about to increase the odds that Donald Trump will win another four years in the White House,” he wrote in italics on his Substack. “You could in fact be increasing his chances of winning dramatically, maybe even decisively.

But don’t dismiss Halperin’s prediction because he’s a washed-up source of conventional wisdom who’s been badly wrong in the past. Dismiss it because it makes so little sense in light of what we know now. Politics is contingent and volatile, which means that any prediction about what will happen is worth the pixels it’s printed on.

But the assumption that Trump will profit seems to spring from hubris (among his allies) and self-protective fear (on the part of his critics and rivals). They are operating on a shared, obsolete conclusion that nothing can ever harm the former president. For a long time, this made sense. . . . Trump won the 2016 presidential election and then embarked on an even more scandal-ridden administration. Yet he seemed to chug away, indifferent to bad press. A narrative of Trumpian invincibility developed as an antidote to callow, wish-casting predictions of walls closing in on Trump.

Caution is understandable, but we know enough now to realize that although Trump is exceptionally resilient, he’s also not invulnerable. In 2018, after he decided to frame the midterm elections as a referendum on him personally, Democrats won big in House and governor elections. In 2020, the House impeached him; when the Senate did not vote to convict, some observers took this as proof that he couldn’t be stopped. But it did damage Trump, and later that year, he lost his reelection bid narrowly but decisively, losing the popular vote for the second time. After his extended attempt to overturn the 2020 election, voters once again punished candidates flying his banner and rallying around his causes in the 2022 midterms.

What charges against Trump are certain to do is inflame his most devoted supporters. They will be furious that anyone would dare try to hold Trump accountable, view it as an act of political persecution, and make a great deal of noise about it. But no one should mistake the vociferousness of this group for size. They’ve always been noisy. They’ve always been a minority: As I wrote in November, we now have multiple demonstrations that an anti-MAGA majority exists among American voters.

[A] consensus has developed among legal analysts that the Manhattan case is the weakest and strangest of the several criminal investigations into Trump. . . . .  A case would appear to hinge on some tenuous legal theories, and Trump might well beat the rap. But any suggestion that he’s delighted by this fight is belied not only by his irate response but by common sense. Trump doesn’t want to discuss the underlying facts of this case—there’s a reason, after all, that Cohen paid Daniels six figures to buy her silence in the first place. Beyond that, several other probes—which look from the outside to be more perilous to Trump—are still on deck, regardless of the outcome in Manhattan.          

   “Look, at the end, being indicted never helps anybody,” former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a lonely dissident from the GOP consensus, said on ABC News yesterday. Trump could be the Republican nominee in 2024, or even win the White House back, but if so, it will probably be despite any criminal case against him, not because of it. 

Tuesday Morning Male Beauty


Monday, March 20, 2023

More Monday Male Beauty


Why White Christian Nationalists Are In a Panic

For years now I have argued that right wing evangelical Christians and Christofascists will be the death of Christianity in America.  A new PPRI Census on American Religion appears to bear this out as the number of "Nones" surge while white evangelicals dwindle in numbers. They have turned a religion that is allegedly based on love of god and love of neighbor into one defined by hatred of others, division and increasingly turn to violence to stem their dwindling numbers rather than looking in the mirror to see that they are making their beliefs and "world view" toxic to more and more Americans, especially the younger generations which are swelling the ranks of the "Nones" - those with no religious affiliation. A religion defined by hate and condemnation of others is a hard sell in the market place of ideas and lifestyles and as evangelicals and Christofascists double down, they are only serving to accelerate the exodus no matter what short term successes they may achieve - e.g., the banning of abortion thanks to six zealts on the U.S. Supreme Court, book bannings in schools and the proliferation of "don't say gay" laws in Republican controled states. A column in the Washington Post looks at the losing battle of these people in the face of changing demographics and their refusal to repackage their beliefs to be more palitable to the larger population.  Here are highlights:

You might find it strange that a large segment of the Republican base thinks Whites are the true victims of racism and that Christians are under attack. After all, America’s biggest racial group is still Whites; the most common religious affiliation remains Christianity. Whites and Christians dominate elected office at all levels, the judiciary and corporate America. What’s the problem?

Well, there is a straightforward reason for the freak-out, and an explanation for why former president Donald Trump developed such a close bond with white Christian nationalists.

This group feels besieged because they are losing ground. “The newly-released 2022 supplement to the PRRI Census of American Religion — based on over 40,000 interviews conducted last year — confirms that the decline of white Christians (Americans who identify as white, non-Hispanic and Christian of any kind) as a proportion of the population continues unabated,” . . . As recently as 2008, when our first Black president was elected, the U.S. was a majority (54%) white Christian country.” By 2014 the number had dropped to 47 percent, and in 2022 it stood at 42 percent.

The group that has declined the most is at the core of the MAGA movement, the group most devoted to Christian nationalism. “White evangelical Protestants have experienced the steepest decline. . . . Jones explains. “Today, white evangelical Protestants comprise only 13.6% of Americans.”

And that decline may yet accelerate, because they skew older than the population as a whole. Put differently, there are far more baby boomers in this group than Generation Z members. White evangelicals are “losing” people with each successive generation. . . . . If your business had lost half its market share, you would be panicking, too.

With those kind of numbers, the responsible thing to do would be to think about “fixing” what’s wrong by adapting to a changing market. Instead, many in this cohort have doubled down, becoming the foot soldiers in the red-hatted MAGA movement. The decline isn’t going to be reversed by angry, gray-haired folks demanding abortion bans and “don’t say gay” bills.

Instead, White evangelicals might look at former “customers” who are abandoning organized religion in droves. “Nearly four in ten Americans ages 18-29 (38%) are religiously unaffiliated, an increase from 34% in 2021," . . . the growth in religiously unaffiliated Americans has started to show up more in the 30-49 age category, which is up to 32% unaffiliated from 26% in 2016.”

White evangelicals’ desperate efforts to cling to political power and demand adherence to a set of outdated cultural norms only make the problem worse. Not many 20-year-olds (part of the most diverse, inclusive generation in history, one steeped in climate science and tech) would leap at the prospect of living in a state where abortion is unattainable, gays are ostracized and secularism is bashed.

If Christian evangelicals really want to slow their decline, they might consider getting out of the unpopular political ideas market (e.g., abortion bans) and stressing values that could win back alienated young people (e.g., reverence for conserving the planet, ministering to the poor and the weak). That might put more seats in the pews, although it likely wouldn’t do much for the aging, mostly White, reactionary GOP.

The reality is that the convergence of the declining population of White Christians with the rise of Trump has been bad for both evangelicalism and American politics. Trump came along, telling the shrinking band of white Christian nationalists that they are victims. . . . They were the group most susceptible to a message that reinforces their feeling they have “lost” something or something has been “taken away.”

That “something” they felt had been stolen may have been as concrete as the 2020 election, or as all-encompassing as white Christian supremacy. However they define that sense of loss, it fuels their anger and binds them to Trump.

But the demographic clock cannot be turned back. No one can claim to be patriotic defenders of democracy when they decide their declining numbers justify anti-democratic voter suppression or even violence. In short, MAGA White Christians have painted themselves into a corner where the majority rejects their outlook and anti-majoritarian tactics cannot keep them in power forever.

A dramatic transformation would need to happen for this movement to return to pluralistic politics. The MAGA crowd would have to recognize America’s complete history, reflecting our full experience, not just the story of people like them. And most important, they would need to rediscover the principles on which the United States was founded. (“All men are created equal...”)

Unimaginable? Maybe so, but what other choice is there? To thrive in the future, they eventually must appeal to America as it is, not as they imagine it was in the past.

Monday Morning Male Beauty


Sunday, March 19, 2023

More Sunday Male Beauty - Pt 2


Russia Is Becoming China's Vassal

One of the ironies of Russia's invasion of Ukraine is that the war was supposed to be a first step in Vladimir Putin's fantasy of restoring the Russian Empire - not so much the Soviet Union as Russia under the tsars with Putin seeing himself as the new tsar.  Putin's delusions have lead to a far different result: a unified and enlarged NATO and Russia's military being put on display as anything but the formidible force many had thought it to be.  Worse yet, between sanctions and growing isolation from Europe, Russia is fast on the road to becoming a vassal to China rather than reasserting itself as a great power.  Putin's war of choice continues to parallel Nicholas II's disastrous Russo-Japanese War that showed Russia to be far weaker than the world assumed and set in motion the march toward revolution. A further irony is Ukraine's suggestion that it would rename Russia and call it Muscovy - a reference perhaps to the time in history when the princes of Moscow were vassals to the Mongols.   A piece in The Economist which looks at Russia's slide to vassal status vis-a-vis China.  Here are excerpts:

WHEN XI JINPING arrives in Moscow on March 20th for a state visit, the Kremlin ceremonies will be focused on showing not only respect to the most important foreign guest Russia has hosted since the beginning of its war against Ukraine, but also equality between the Chinese leader and his host, President Vladimir Putin. Yet elaborate court protocols will not be able to mask the growing power asymmetry between the two countries.

Mr Putin likes to frame his assault on Ukraine as an act of rebellion against American global dominance and a leap towards full Russian sovereignty. The reality is very different. Thirteen months into the war, Russia is increasingly dependent on China as a market for its commodities, as a source of critical imports, and as its most important diplomatic partner amid its growing global isolation. In 2022 China accounted for nearly 30% of Russian exports and 40% of its imports. A growing share of that trade is settled in Chinese yuan, since the West sanctions Russia’s access to the dollar and euro. With the West quickly dismantling its reliance on Russian natural resources, this dependency is set to grow.

Indeed, Russia may soon be more dependent on China than it ever was on Europe. It launched its pivot to China in 2014, following the annexation of Crimea, in order to diversify away from Europe. Now that ties with the West are broken beyond repair, Russia has no long-term options other than China.

For now, China is content simply to monetise its growing geoeconomic leverage over Russia by securing discounts on its hydrocarbon exports and conquering its consumer market. But it is probably only a matter of time before China demands more political loyalty for its help in keeping Mr Putin’s regime afloat.

As Russia’s reliance on China reduces the Kremlin’s leverage, China could demand more political concessions. It could ask Russia to share sensitive military technologies, accept its naval presence in the Russian Arctic, or greenlight more People’s Liberation Army installations in Central Asia. China may also want a say on Russia’s ties to Asian countries that have their own troubles with Mr Xi’s regime. China could ask Russia not to service the military equipment that it has been selling to India for decades, for example. The Kremlin may not be able to refuse some of these offers.

Why, if the Kremlin was so obsessed about supposed American dominance in its relationship with the West, would it lock the country into deepening deference to China? The reason is that the war against Ukraine and, by extension, its Western allies, has emerged as the organising principle of Russian politics, economics and foreign policy. Mr Putin and his entourage have staked so much on this campaign that the war has become existential. Losing it, in the dark minds of the hard men in the Kremlin, means losing power, the country, and maybe even their own freedom and lives.

As censorship and repression become the norm in Russia, and the economy is increasingly put on a war footing, the Kremlin is reassessing every diplomatic relationship through the lens of its potential support for the war effort. China emerges as the most consequential partner, for three reasons.

First, its increased purchases of Russian commodities fill Mr Putin’s war chest. Second, China is an irreplaceable source of supplies for Mr Putin’s war machine, whether components for Russian weapons or microchips for industrial machines. Finally, although the Kremlin has been looking for ways to punish the West—above all America—for its support for Ukraine, so far the tools it has deployed, such as cyberweapons or energy blackmail, have not proved very effective.

What sweetens the pill of subservience to China is not only Schadenfreude about the upcoming demise of American hegemony, but China’s remarkable ability to massage the Russian ego and give Mr Putin public face, including through Mr Xi’s state visit. Another comforting reality is that China could not care less about repression and corruption inside Russia, so long as Chinese interests are served.

Russia’s new attitude towards China is in stark contrast to even a year ago. Before February 24th many voices in the Russian power system cautioned against a blind rush into China’s embrace, advocating a more balanced foreign policy. These voices are now silent, subordinated to Mr Putin’s tunnel vision of Russian national interests: destroying Ukraine and taking revenge on the West. The tragedy for Russia is that even after Mr Putin’s exit from the political scene, the new setup of a giant Eurasian dictatorship subservient to Chinese overlords will probably survive.

Several years from now, the West will have eliminated its economic dependency on anything Russian. Russia’s economy will adjust—with enormous Chinese help—to a new model: poorer and technologically backward, but sustainable. China will consume the bulk of Russian exports and provide its only modern technology; the Russian financial system will be fully yuanised. The sanctioned leaders of the Russian security services and the military will become the country’s new elite: mostly veterans of the Ukrainian campaign, with no experience of travelling to the West since 2014, and many with children in top Chinese universities.

To restore ties with the West and crawl out from under this Chinese dominance, Russia will have to meet Ukraine’s demands of accountability for war criminals, reparations and the return of all annexed territories, with the promise of a partial lifting of sanctions as an elusive reward. That will be a tall order even in the unlikely scenario of a democratic government in post-Putin Russia, and next to impossible to the team that will probably run the Kremlin after Mr Putin finally leaves. Vassalage to China will look more familiar, predictable and beneficial.

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Some in the GOP Have Lost Their Moral Compass on Ukraine

In my view, a political party that remains beholden to a morally bankrupt, malignant narcissist like Donald Trump has lost its moral compass (this is particularly true of Trump loving evangelicals).  Yet some in the Republican Party - namely possible presidential primary contenders - and their propagandists at Fox News are signalling that their moral bankruptcy goes even further by seeking to limit America's aid to Ukraine or, worse yet, favoring Vladimair Putin, a man against an arrest warrant for war crimes has been issued by the International Criminal Court.  There truly is a reason some conservatives are calling the GOP nomination contest the "Moscow Primary."  Thankfully, not all Republicans are embracing this betrayal of freedom and approach that would only embolden Russia and China to launch conquests against neighbors and weaken America's position in the world.  A column in the Washington Post lays out the moral failings of the pro-Putin Republicans and how they would weaken the nation in the face of aggressors.  Here are excerpts:

“America First” does not mean “America Only.” It means putting our interests first — and that’s what opposing Russia in Ukraine does.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine is not a “territorial dispute,” as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis described it this month. Russia is engaged in a war against an innocent people, and it must be condemned. The United States of America is the greatest country on Earth, and we must stand with our allies around the globe to fight aggressive and dangerous regimes that threaten freedom wherever they are.

Simply opposing aid to Ukraine because President Biden supports it is not a viable foreign policy. To abandon Ukraine would set off a negative chain of events for U.S. interests domestically and abroad. Vladimir Putin is knocking at NATO’s doorstep, and without our support — and the support of our European allies — Ukraine will fall, resulting in far graver problems for the United States: conflict across Europe.

For generations, oppressive authoritarian rule has quashed religious freedom and limited individual opportunities across the globe. The United States should stand with freedom-loving people and help support emerging democracies wherever they are. The days of being coy on foreign policy are over.

History has taught us that complacency and appeasement benefit our enemies much more than they benefit the United States. Some in the Republican Party have lost their moral compass on foreign policy, as evidenced by former president Donald Trump, who once called Putin’s invasion “genius” and “savvy.” As Republicans, we should support freedom, not abandon it. We must not equivocate, but rather lead with strength and courage in the mold of Ronald Reagan.

There should never be blank checks when it comes to government funding, and all tax dollars must be spent and accounted for wisely. Yet the price the United States is paying in Ukraine today is far less than the price we will face if Putin continues his westward march, threatening the sovereignty and security of NATO.

[T]he United States has a duty to limit authoritarian and tyrannical aggression, whether it’s Russia in Ukraine or China in Taiwan. If we were to abandon Ukraine, the United States would send an unmistakable signal to dictators that the United States does not stand with its allies, nor for the expansion of freedom. Allied countries such as Japan and Australia would be left to wonder if the United States would tolerate Chinese aggression in the Pacific.

U.S. resolve is being tested, and Xi Jinping is watching. It is easy to see what happens next: Russia and China get stronger; the United States gets weaker. China, emboldened, sees an opening in Taiwan, conflict cascades, and the United States faces an existential threat.

The idea that our support of Ukraine is creating a partnership between China and Russia is a straw man. China and Russia have colluded against U.S. interests for over a decade, and this war has weakened Russia.

Unfortunately, Putin is now hearing future leaders of the United States speak with a lack of commitment against such aggression.

As Reagan said, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.” Today, our commitment to freedom’s legacy is being tested. My hope for the Republican Party — and for the United States — is that we continue to stand with freedom for generations to come.

Resolve is the United States’ most powerful tool in worldwide conflicts. We need to show it. Our hopeful vision for the world must be aspirational and ambitious, not apathetic and indifferent.