Saturday, April 01, 2023

More Saturday Male Beauty - Pt 2


Christian Nationalists: the Opposite of True Christians

Some scoff at the idea, but I continue to believe one of the major causations for the Republican Party's descent into something hideous where anti-democracy sentiments, racism and religous extremism flourish is the rise of evangelicals and Christofascists within the GOP and the lockhold they now hold on GOP primary voters.  Many evangelicals come from traditions that supported slavery and then segregation and little of that mindset has really changed.  Many also want a Christian theocracy - something Trump seemingly promised them in June 2016 - and seek to stamp out anyone and anything that challenges their ignorance and myth-like beliefs. And then there is their unique selfishness where they wear their false religiosity on their selves while opposing policies that would be a furtherance of Christ's social gospel message.  Before I left the GOP, I saw a number of people first hand as they infiltrated the party base and local city and county committees.  In truth, they care little for Christianity except for the label and they hate and despise today's society where racial minorities and gays have gained acceptance - things they view as challenging their privilege and misplaced sense of superiority.  A piece in The New Yorker looks at these dangerous, un-Christian people.  Here are excerpts:

Seven years ago, during the Republican Presidential primary, Donald Trump appeared onstage at Dordt University, a Christian institution in Iowa, and made a confession of faith. “I’m a true believer,” he said, and he conducted an impromptu poll. “Is everybody a true believer, in this room?” He was scarcely the first Presidential candidate to make a religious appeal, but he might have been the first one to address Christian voters so explicitly as a special interest. . . . . He made his audience a promise. “If I’m there, you’re going to have plenty of power,” he said. “You’re going to have somebody representing you very, very well.”

By the time Trump reluctantly left office, in 2021, his relationship with evangelical Christians was one of the most powerful alliances in American politics. (According to one survey, he won eighty-four per cent of the white evangelical vote in 2020.) On January 6th, when his supporters gathered in Washington to protest the election results, one person brought along a placard depicting Jesus wearing a MAGA hat

The events of January 6th bolstered a growing belief that the alliance between Trump and his Christian supporters had become something more like a movement, a pro-Trump uprising with a distinctive ideology. This ideology is sometimes called “Christian nationalism,” a description that often functions as a diagnosis. . . . . seventy per cent of Christian nationalists don’t know that they’re Christian nationalists,” he said. “They’re just, like, ‘This is normal Christianity, from the time of Jesus.’ ”

In contemporary America, though, the practice of Christianity is starting to seem abnormal. Measures of religious observance in America have shown a steep decrease over the past quarter century. In 1999, Gallup found that seventy per cent of Americans belonged to a church, a synagogue, or a mosque. In 2020, the number was forty-seven per cent—for the first time in nearly a hundred years of polling, worshippers were the minority.

There is no canonical manifesto of Christian nationalism, and no single definition of it. In search of rigor, a pair of sociologists, Andrew L. Whitehead and Samuel L. Perry, examined data from various surveys and tracked the replies to six propositions . . . . Whitehead and Perry published the results in a book called “Taking America Back for God,” in which they predicted a growing schism. “Christian nationalism gives divine sanction to ethnocentrism and nativism,” they wrote, noting that a number of respondents doubted that immigrants or non-English speakers could ever be “truly American.” Christian nationalism was, they argued, a divisive creed; its adherents were more likely than other groups to believe “that Muslims and Atheists hold morally inferior values.”

Gorski and Perry argue that in American politics Christian nationalism has often served as a white-identity movement. They note, for instance, that white Americans who support Christian nationalism are likelier to evince disapproval of immigration and concern about anti-white discrimination. And they worry that “white Christian nationalism is working just beneath the surface” of American politics, ready to trigger an outburst, as it did on January 6th. “There will be another eruption—and soon,” they write.

Gorski and Perry warn that a second Trump Administration might lead to “Jim Crow 2.0,” with “non-white, undocumented immigrants” singled out for “mass deportations on an unprecedented scale.” But they also note that the white Christian nationalists in their survey expressed the most hostility not toward immigrants or toward Muslims but toward socialists.

Africans and their descendants were sometimes held to be heathens of a peculiar sort, because they were considered to be both a Biblical people and a cursed one: descendants of Canaan, the son of Ham and grandson of Noah. In the Bible, Ham has an ambiguous encounter with a drunk and naked Noah, and is punished with a generational affliction: “Cursed be Canaan; A servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren.”

Judging from church-membership figures, the nineteen-fifties may have been the most pious period in American history; it was the decade when the phrase “under God” was added to the Pledge of Allegiance (1954), and when “In God we trust” was adopted as the country’s official motto (1956). By then, politicians were talking less about heathenism and more about a new adversary . . . a final, all-out battle between Communistic atheism and Christianity.” In America, Christianity works best as an organizing principle when there is a strong non-Christian force to organize against.

In “The Case for Christian Nationalism,” Stephen Wolfe, a political philosopher and faithful Presbyterian, advances a series of syllogisms . . . He has firm opinions on whether non-Christians are “entitled to political equality” (no), whether “political atheism” should be excluded from the bounds of “acceptable opinion” (yes), and whether “arch-heretics” can justifiably be put to death (yes). In Wolfe’s view, Christians are too quick to dismiss the virtue of tribalism—the notion that people are drawn to others who share their “ethnicity,” . . . Wolfe’s book avoids explicit claims about race, but after its publication, in November, a shadow was cast over it by an investigation that Alastair Roberts, an English theologian, conducted into the public writing of one of Wolfe’s close friends and collaborators, Thomas Achord.

Achord, under a pseudonym, had been posting online in support of what he called “robust race realist white nationalism.” Roberts pointed to a Twitter account that had responded to a post from the American Jewish Committee by writing, “OK jew,” and referred to Representative Cori Bush, of Missouri, as a “Ngress.” In response to a discussion of white supremacy by Jemar Tisby, a prominent Black historian of Christianity, the account posted, “Please leave soon. —Sincerely, All White Peoples.”

The presidency of George W. Bush was a high-water mark for Christian politics. Bush launched initiatives to support “faith-based organizations,” and brought a missionary’s fervor to the promotion of democracy in the Middle East and, much more successfully, AIDS treatment in Africa. By contrast, Trump was perhaps the least Christian President in modern times; although he kept his promise to anti-abortion Christian voters by appointing three Supreme Court Justices who helped overturn Roe v. Wade, he seemed to view this not as a moral triumph but as a favor for a special interest.

America may now be following the trajectory of Europe, where Viktor Orb├ín, the Prime Minister of Hungary, talks about the importance of “Christian roots,” even though fewer than twenty per cent of Hungarians attend church regularly. If the rise of Christian nationalism in America reflects the decline of Christianity, that is bittersweet news for secular liberals, because it means that they might expect to see more and more of it as the country grows less pious.

How did this decline happen? No one seems to know. Sociologists such as Gorski and Perry can tell us that Christian-nationalist beliefs reflect a tribal or partisan identity, but they can’t tell us why so many self-identified Christians seem uninterested in the religion itself.

The strangest thing about the debate over Christian nationalism is the assumption shared by many of the participants. The sociologists see a fearful tribe, resentful of a country that won’t stop changing. . . . the underlying idea is that recent trends will continue: that churches will keep emptying out, and that Christianity will become an ever more tribal identity. The secular country that emerges might be increasingly free, anxious, and unpredictable—less prayer in schools, more shamans in the Capitol.

More Saturday Male Beauty


Republicans' False Claims of Protecting About Children

Like everything else into day's Republican Party, the real focus is on pandering to and thrilling the increasingly extreme and ugly party base, especially the MAGA base that includes a significant majority of evangelicals.  Hence the mantra of "parents' rights" and faux concerns about protecting children.  Republicans are only too happy to attack drag queens, erase gays and erase ugly truths about the nation's history but imposing any kind of sane gun control so that children aren't murdered in the school claas rooms is beyond the pale.  Similarly, many of thses same Republicans whining about children seeing drag shows are seeking to role back child labor laws so that 13 and 14 years can work in dangerous jobs that threaten their safety. But one example of this is the always descpicable and serial liar, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, now governor of Arkansas - asomething that says nothing good about that state - who is leading a charge against "wokeness" while putting children in dangerous jobs. Truth be told, Republicans care only about some children, particularly fetuses and the children of evangelical voters, but for most children, once they are out of the birth canal, all bets are off.  The hypocrisy and dishonesty are truly off the charts making most of the Republican office holders the same as much of the evangelical/white supremacist base:  if their lips are moving, it's safe to assume they are lying.  Columns in the New York Times looks at this hypocrisy and the effort to repeal child labor laws (the image is of a 13-year-old boy who works 12-hour shifts, six days a week, at an egg farm).  First this on the assault on child labor protections lead predominently by Republicans

Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders of Arkansas signed a bill this month rolling back the state’s child labor protections, making it easier for employers to hire children under 16. Elsewhere, bills to allow 14- and 15-year-olds to work in meatpacking plants and other dangerous jobs in Iowa as part of training programs and 16- and 17-year-olds to take jobs at construction sites in Minnesota are under consideration.

These enacted and potential rollbacks are happening just when the country is experiencing a surge of child labor violations on a scale and of a type that we hadn’t heard about for many years. Laws in the United States prohibit certain very dangerous work for minors, but recent investigative reporting by The New York Times and Reuters has exposed migrant children as young as 12 working at car factories, meat processors and construction sites; household-name companies generally avoid liability through the use of sometimes sketchy subcontractors and staffing agencies.

And when child labor violations come to light, especially horrifying ones, shouldn’t elected officials strengthen laws and fund enforcement rather than allow more children to be exploited?

[I]t appears that some business interests and lawmakers would prefer to expand the pool of exploitable workers to vulnerable children rather than improve working conditions to attract age-appropriate employees.

The labor market shortfall also results in part from a decline in immigration and an increase in out-migration, predictable results of anti-immigrant attitudes and policies. . . . The shortage, then, is mostly of our own making. Facing this situation, employers could lure people back to the work force by offering better conditions.

But raising wages for workers, providing benefits and giving signing bonuses would mean slimmer profits, representing concessions to workers’ slightly increased bargaining power during our current tight labor market. Instead, some employers and some business interests are turning to the most vulnerable and exploitable work force around: children.

Even arguing about whether 14-year-olds should work in meatpacking plants, as though it were an appropriate subject for legitimate political debate, runs the risk of normalizing a practice that should be totally out of bounds.

The second column looks at the wider hypocrisy and dishonesty of Republicans pretending to care about protecting children:

Here are a few of the things the Republican Party is prepared to do to protect children.

The Republican Party — in states like Tennessee, Oklahoma and Kentucky — is prepared to ban or strictly limit the public performance of drag and other gender-nonconforming behavior.

The Republican Party is prepared to ban or strictly limit discussion of L.G.B.T.Q. people and identities in public schools, as well as transgender health care for minors, to protect them from what they say is manipulation and abuse.

The Republican Party is prepared to extend this circle of protection to discussions of race and American history in public schools — so-called critical race theory — to protect students from guilt, shame, discomfort and any other negative emotion.

And the Republican Party is prepared to strictly limit or even ban social media, over concern that platforms like TikTok and Instagram may harm the mental health and well-being of children and adolescents.

There is a lot, in other words, that the Republican Party is prepared to do to protect children from the world at large. But there are limits. There are lines the Republican Party won’t cross.

The Republican Party will not, for example, support universal school lunch to protect children from hunger. When Minnesota Democrats pushed the measure in the most recent session of the state’s Legislature, for example, one of their Republican colleagues strenuously objected. “I have yet to meet a person in Minnesota that says they don’t have access to enough food to eat,” Steve Drazkowski, a state senator, said. He, like most Republicans in the Legislature, voted against the bill.

In the United States Congress, most Republicans will not support a child allowance to keep children, and their families, out of poverty. On the question of health care, there are 10 states — Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, Tennessee, Wisconsin and Wyoming — where Republicans have refused the Medicaid expansion passed under the Affordable Care Act, depriving millions of Americans, including many children, of access to regular medical care.

And in the wake of yet another school massacre — in Nashville, where a shooter killed three adults and three children at a private Christian schoolRepublicans refuse to do anything that might reduce the odds of another shooting or make it less likely that a child dies of gun violence. . . . In 2021, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, firearms were the leading cause of death for children and adolescents in the United States.

When you put all of this together, the picture is clear. The Republican Party will use the law and the state to shield as many children as possible from the knowledge, cultural influences and technologies deemed divisive or controversial or subversive by the voters, activists and apparatchiks that shape and guide its priorities. When Tucker Carlson, Christopher Rufo and Moms for Liberty say jump, their only question is: How high?

But when it comes to actual threats to the lives of American children — from poverty, from hunger, from sickness and from guns — then, well, the Republican Party wants us to slow down and consider the costs and consequences and even possible futility of taking any action to help.

What sounds like due consideration for parents as the most important adults in the lives of most children is in fact a rallying cry for a subset of the most conservative and reactionary parents, who want a state-sanctioned heckler’s veto over the education of all the children in the community. It is a Trojan horse for the slow destruction of public schools.

Something similar is true of the constant calls to protect children. The way they talk about them, these children are not real, living, vulnerable kids. They are a symbol, and the calls to protect them are an excuse, a pretext for wielding the state against the perceived cultural enemies of the American right. These champions of children aren’t all that interested in young people as citizens with rights and entitlements of their own.

The dark irony in all this is that as the Republican Party turns the idea of the children against gay people as well as trans and other gender-nonconforming Americans, it becomes more likely that actual kids will try to harm themselves, out of fear or despair or a sense of isolation or all of the above.

Not all children, it seems, are worthy of protection.

Saturday Morning Male Beauty


Friday, March 31, 2023

More Friday Male Beauty - Pt 2


Trump's Indictment Presents Republicans With a Choice

With Donald Trump's criminal indictment, so far many - perhaps most - Republicans ever fearful of the GOP's hideous MAGA base are already rallying to Trump's defense and furthering Trump's lie that he is being persecuted.   Meanwhile, they don't even know the specific charges - so reports say 30 some counts - or their merits.   Among those astonishingly is Mike Pence, the man Trump's January 6, 2021, mob wanted to hang, proving yet again that Pence has no honor or basic decency.  No amount of self-prostitution is too much for the vast majority of Republican office holders.  As a piece at The Atlantic by a former Republican lays out, the choice before Republicans is actually very simple: (i) Crime and violence and Trump, or (ii) the rule of law and the U. S. Constitution.   There really is no middle ground.  Here are excerpts: 

The first Catholic. The first African American. Someday, maybe soon, the first woman. The history of the presidency is a history of firsts. Now there is one more: the first former president to be indicted.  It’s a solemn and sad moment. It’s also a fiercely just moment.

Remember that although Donald Trump’s indictment in New York has been confirmed by one of his attorneys, we do not yet know, as of the evening of Thursday, March 30, what he has been indicted for. When Trump himself circulated the first rumors of his pending indictment, many reacted with rapid comments on the inadvisability of indicting a former president for offenses arising from a sexual affair, a reservation I share. But it’s also possible that this reported indictment arises from the Trump Organization’s decades-long practices of criminal tax fraud.

In 2018, The New York Times reported that the Trump family had allegedly evaded hundreds of millions of dollars in estate taxes through complex schemes of false invoicing. In 2022, a New York State court convicted the Trump Organization of evading income taxes through false invoicing. When it came time to pay off women who claimed to have had sexual connections with Trump, he allegedly reverted to long-standing practice.

The case against Trump might not be a sex-payoff case, or even a campaign-finance case. It could fundamentally be a tax-fraud case, the latest installment of a multigenerational criminal practice that has cheated the people of the United States and New York of huge amounts of money.

More indictments by more states in more cases may be filed soon. Donald Trump is not an occasional lawbreaker. He incited the mob that ended the American tradition of the peaceful transfer of power—and that inflicted unnecessary injury and avoidable death both upon law-enforcement officers and Trump’s own deceived supporters. He tried to intimidate state-level election officials to manipulate vote totals to fraudulently preserve his hold on office. The jeopardy will only accumulate.

Atop all the other questions on the ballot in that election, therefore, will be this: Crime and violence and Trump, or law and the Constitution—where do you stand?

Good God, where does his Republican Party and mine now stand? The wrong is overwhelming and the shame is crushing—but the only decent choice for the honest and patriotic American is now starker, purer, and more certain than ever.

More Friday Male Beauty


Thursday, March 30, 2023

Grand Jury Indicts Trump: No One Is Above the Law

As regular readers know, to say that I despise Donald Trump, a man who has skirted the law like a Mafia boss for decades and did untolled damage to America's democracy, is a huge understatement.   In addition, Trump is the embodimentof the seven deadly sins - a reality lost on evangelicals and Christofascist who are the antithesis of true followers of Christ as underscored by their embrace of Trump.   Thus, today's indictment of Donald Trump in New York is a welcomed event (hopefully, more indictments will follow in Georgia and at the federal level).   Yes,  an indictment is along way from a conviction.  That said, many prosecutors in high profile cases will not indict unless they believe they they can secure a conviction, something I hope is true in this case.   Whatever the result, Trump's indictment signals that  perhaps the rule of law will survive in America after all.  The specifics of the indictment are not fully known but it is likely the New York grand jury  indicted Donald Trump for at least one felony arising out of falsifying business records to hide hush money payments to a porn star in violation of campaign finance laws.   That Donald Trump was ever elected president is perhaps one of the worse embarassments to America in its more recent history. Holding Trump accountable - hopefully in the form of his emprisonment - will do much to cleanse this national disgrace and send an important message to the world at large.  It will also send a strong message to other would be autocrats - think Ron DeSantis and Gred Abbott - that no one is above the law or exempt for eventual accountability.  A main editorial in the New York Times looks at the indictment and reflects many of my thoughts:

For the first time in American history, a grand jury has indicted a former president of the United States, The Times reported on Thursday. Donald Trump spent years as a candidate, in office and out of office, ignoring democratic and legal norms and precedents, trying to bend the Justice Department and the judiciary to his whims and behaving as if rules didn’t apply to him. As the news of the indictment shows, they do.

A pattern of disregard for the law often leads to a criminal indictment, and that is the outcome Mr. Trump now faces. Federal and state prosecutors were right to set aside concerns about political fallout, or reverence for the presidency, and initiate thorough criminal investigations of Mr. Trump’s conduct in at least four instances. The investigation by the Manhattan district attorney is the first known to result in an indictment.

Mr. Trump completely transformed the relationship between the presidency and the rule of law, often asserting that a president was above the law. So it is appropriate that his actions as president and as a candidate should now be formally weighed by judges and juries, with the possibility of criminal penalties on the line. Mr. Trump badly damaged America’s political and legal institutions and threatened them again with calls for widespread protests once he is indicted.

A healthy respect for the legal system also requires Americans to set aside their politics when forming judgments on these cases. While Mr. Trump routinely called for his enemies to be investigated by the F.B.I., to be indicted or to face the death penalty, his indifference to due process for others shouldn’t deny him the system’s benefits, including a fair trial . . . . At the same time, no jury should extend to him any special privileges as a former president. He should have to follow the same procedures as any other citizen.

The indictment remains sealed, and the exact charges against Mr. Trump may not be known for several days. But Alvin Bragg, the district attorney, has been pursuing a case of possible fraud and campaign finance violations by Mr. Trump for concealing payments he made to the porn-film star Stormy Daniels before the 2016 election. His actions — using money to silence critics and hide politically damaging information — were wrong. The question that will face a jury is whether that behavior meets the threshold for conviction as a felony.

If those are the charges, conviction will hinge on proving that Mr. Trump participated in falsifying business records while violating campaign finance law, a somewhat novel legal strategy. Falsifying records can be charged as a misdemeanor in New York; to make it a more serious felony requires proof that he combined it with a second crime, in this case, a potential campaign finance violation.

While some legal experts have questioned the theory behind Mr. Bragg’s case, there is no basis for the accusation that it is politically motivated — a claim that Mr. Trump has made, for many years, about every investigation into his conduct. Just as jurors are routinely instructed to ignore evidence that is improperly introduced in a trial, they will also have to ignore the unsubstantiated implications raised by Trump supporters and attorneys in these cases and judge them strictly on the merits.

Three of the other investigations that may result in indictments are more serious, because they involve allegations not just that Mr. Trump violated the law but also that he abused his presidential office.

Among the most egregious are the accusations against him in Georgia. The Fulton County district attorney, Fani Willis, is weighing criminal charges against several people, including Mr. Trump, for attempting to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election in that state

A special grand jury impaneled by Ms. Willis recommended in February that charges be brought in the case; it’s not yet known which people or allegations were included in the grand jury’s recommendations or whom, if anyone, Ms. Willis may seek to indict.

A federal Justice Department inquiry led by a special counsel, Jack Smith, could also result in charges against Mr. Trump. Mr. Smith is investigating the former president’s efforts to prevent the peaceful transfer of power on Jan. 6, 2021, when Mr. Trump roused an armed mob that attacked the U.S. Capitol, threatening lawmakers who were gathered to certify the results of the presidential election.

Mr. Smith’s team is also investigating the former president over his mishandling of classified documents that were removed from the White House and taken to Mar-a-Lago, his private residence in Florida. Some 300 classified documents have been recovered in the case. Prosecutors are also examining whether Mr. Trump, his attorneys or staff members misled government officials seeking the return of the documents.

In addition to criminal charges, Mr. Trump faces several civil lawsuits. New York’s attorney general, Letitia James, is suing the former president for “grossly” and fraudulently inflating the value of his real estate assets. Three of Mr. Trump’s adult children are named in the suit as well.

A group of Capitol Police officers and Democratic legislators are suing the former president, arguing that his actions on Jan. 6 incited the mob that caused them physical and emotional harm. E. Jean Carroll, a writer who accused Mr. Trump of raping her, is suing the former president for defamation. Mr. Trump denies the charges.

Prosecuting the former president will no doubt widen the existing political divisions that have so damaged the country in recent years. Mr. Trump has already stoked that divisiveness, calling prosecutors behind the probes — several of whom are Black — “racist.” . . . . Those accusations are clearly aimed at undermining the allegations against him, inoculating himself from the consequences of his misconduct and using the cases to his political advantage. The two district attorneys in these cases are elected Democrats, but their race and political affiliations are not relevant to the legal proceedings . . . .

The decision to prosecute a former president is a solemn task, particularly given the deep national fissures that Mr. Trump will inevitably exacerbate as the 2024 campaign grows closer. But the cost of failing to seek justice against a leader who may have committed these crimes would be higher still.

Friday Morning Male Beauty


More Thursday Male Beauty


DeSantis' Book Banning Monster At Odds With Majority Views

In the ongoing run up to Virginia's 2023 elections and, of course the 2024 elections, Republicans are continuing their anti-LGBT jihad and continue to pander to the most etreme elements of the GOP/MAGA base. New surveys show that the (i) vast majority of Americans oppose efforts to discrimiante against LGBT individuals and (ii) similar majorities oppose the banning of drag shows.   Yet the GOP jihid continues and in Florida is about to create a situation where one lunatic parent or resident could trigger the immediate banning of any book in grades k-12 while a lengthy review would unfold later   It's an ass backwards recipe for huge abuse and it takes little imagination to envision Christofascits targeting huge numbers of books the claim to be "inappropriate."  There appears to be no thought on how this pandering to bigots and extremist may play out in general elections where the non-extreme/insane majority may  Here's what the new surveys have found:

A new national survey has reassuring findings that Americans of almost all religions and no religion are growing ever more supportive of LGBTQ rights.

For instance, eight in 10 Americans (80 percent) in the Public Religion Research Institute survey support laws against discrimination in jobs, public accommodations and housing against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. Even 62 percent of white evangelical Protestants, tied with Hispanic Protestants, favor such nondiscrimination laws.

Interestingly, in states showing the lowest level of support for nondiscrimination (Alabama, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota), two-thirds of state citizens themselves are against such discrimination, showing that state legislatures are not keeping up with demographics.

As for drag shows, there's this:

The results of an NPR-PBS NewsHour-Marist poll, released Wednesday, show 58 percent of respondents said they oppose laws restricting the performances, while 39 percent said they support them.

The disconnect between public views and the agenda of Republican politicians is in short stark.   The pending Florida legislation backed by DeSantis could make this disconnent turn into a casm.  Here are highlights from a column in the Washington Post that looks at the power being given to extremists:

By now, it should be blindingly obvious that many red-state book crackdowns are designed to encourage the impulse toward censorship. By enabling lone actors to get dozens of titles removed from school library shelves while meeting deliberately vague criteria for objecting to them, these measures invite overzealous parents to hunt for books to purge.

A bill advancing in the Florida state legislature suggests this could create problems for Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is using book crackdowns to bolster his GOP presidential hopes. As it gets easier for single objectors to get books removed, the bans could get more absurd — and stick to DeSantis himself.

The proposal in question, which appears to have the governor’s general support, would require the instant removal of certain books targeted for objections, even before any sort of evaluative process unfolds. . . . “For activists on the right, this is a new strategy that will greatly speed the process of censoring materials."

The provision is buried in a bill that’s already received attention for another reason: It would expand the state’s “don’t say gay” law prohibiting classroom discussion of sex and gender up to high school — well beyond the initial goal of limiting discussion only through third grade.

That’s bad, but the book-banning provision, which has attracted far less attention, makes it worse. That part of the bill mandates that instructional material facing objection in public schools through 12th grade for depicting “sexual” or “pornographic” conduct be “unavailable to students until the objection is resolved.”

This means books and other materials would be removed before something akin to due process occurs. Such objections could be lodged not just by a parent, but any resident in the county, meaning anyone could get a book removed more easily than before. . . . the problem with this provision as written is that it can be flagrantly abused.

Take the case of “The Bluest Eye,” a novel by Toni Morrison. In at least one Florida county — Pinellas — parental objections have already resulted in the book being banned from schools because it features a rape scene, even though students protested that it was important to their education.

If the new bill passes, it would become statewide policy that this book — or others with similarly peripheral “sexual conduct” — must be banned from a given district’s schools immediately upon the objection of one resident of that county, says Kara Gross, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida.

“It grants enormous power to a single bigoted individual to dictate and control what books other parents’ kids have access to,” Gross told me.

This, in turn, could make it easier for bad-faith actors to nix books while avoiding a process in which baseless objections might initially get dismissed. As Sachs put it, “the automatic removal provision will be abused and lead to widespread censorship.”

Right-wing activists in Florida are already lodging objections on vaguely sexual grounds to an extraordinary range of books, as the Popular Information newsletter demonstrated. In some cases, dozens of books are getting banned in counties because of the objections of one parent, as happened when a member of the right-wing “Moms for Liberty” orchestrated the removal of 20 Jodi Picoult novels from school libraries in Martin County.

It can take months to process an objection, meaning this bill, if passed, could take a book out of circulation for long periods even if the complaint is groundless. This will obviously invite activists and lone parents to mount as many flimsy objections as possible.

DeSantis probably calculates that this would serve his short-term political interests. Headlines about banned books — and liberal outrage in response — will bolster him among GOP primary voters. It might boost him among party elites who want to see DeSantis harness MAGA’s preoccupations toward defeating former president Donald Trump in the Republican primary.

But those elites are also backing DeSantis because he supposedly can win back suburban voters alienated by Trump. And national stories about the latest book-banning frenzy would probably undermine that suburban appeal.

So, DeSantis can keep incentivizing these self-deputized local book-purging czars to go on their rampages if he must. Yet it’s likely he will have to answer for the whims of these petty functionaries when their efforts run off the rails.

Thursday Morning Male Beauty


Wednesday, March 29, 2023

More Wednesday Morning Male Beauty


The Smoke Screen of "Parents' Rights

Over the years the so-called "Christian Right" - which in my view rarely acts in a Christian manner and is rarely right on the issues - and their lackeys in the Republican Party have been good at coming up with catch phrases and talking points that at first blush look innocuous and mask their real agenda of forcing everyone to live in accordance with their ignorance based and bigoted beliefs.  The current rage in the GOP is the mantra of "parents' rights" was kicked off by Glenn Youngkin, a puppet of the Christofacists at The Family Foundation and has gone nationwide thanks to suburban Virginia voters who fell for Youngkin's deceptive campaign.   What the real goal of the "parents' rights" groups - many funded by far right dark money - and elected officials pandering to the GOP base is to force the views of a loud (and vicious) minority on all Americans and in the process rewite history to meet their often white supremacist beliefs and ban books and curriculums that they in their ignorance and prejudice find offensive.   They and their political whores in the GOP care nothing about the rights and wants of the majority.  As is always the case, it's all about them and to hell with everyone else.  A column in the New York Times looks at the real agenda of the GOP and far right players pushing the parents' rights smoke screen.  Here are higlights: 

You may have heard the phrase “parents’ rights.” It sounds unobjectionable — of course parents should have rights — which is probably why it’s become the term of choice for the conservative effort to ban books, censor school curriculums and suppress politically undesirable forms of knowledge.

When House Republicans introduced a bill that would require public schools to notify parents that they are entitled to access course material and lists of books kept in school libraries, they cited “parents’ rights” as the reason.

“That’s what today is all about: It’s about every parent, mom and dad, but most importantly about the students in America,” Speaker Kevin McCarthy said. Several Republican-controlled states have either proposed or passed similar measures.

The official name for Florida’s infamous “Don’t Say Gay” bill, prohibiting “classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity,” is the “Parental Rights in Education Act.” And the state’s “Stop WOKE Act” — short for “Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees,” which outlaws any school instruction that classifies individuals as “inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously,” was framed, similarly, as a victory for the rights of parents.

It should be said that this movement for “parents’ rights” in Florida has empowered certain parents to remove books, films, even whole classes that threaten to expose their children to material that might make them uncomfortable. In Pinellas County, for example, a single complaint about the Disney film “Ruby Bridges” — about the 6-year-old girl who integrated an all-white New Orleans school in 1960 — led to its removal from an elementary school.

In his 2021 campaign for the Virginia governor’s mansion, Glenn Youngkin made “parents’ matter” his slogan, and he has asserted “parents’ rights” in his effort to regulate the treatment of transgender children and end “divisive concepts” such as “critical race theory” in schools. His early moves included new history standards that removed discussions of racism and downplayed the role of slavery in causing the Civil War.

And at this moment, Texas Republicans are debating a bill — backed by Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick — that, according to The Texas Tribune, “would severely restrict classroom lessons, school activities and teacher guidance about sexual orientation and gender identity in all public and charter schools up to 12th grade.” Texas parents, the Tribune notes, already have the right to “remove their child temporarily from a class or activity that conflicts with their beliefs or review all instructional materials.” This bill would further empower parents to object to books, lessons and entire curriculums.

“Parents’ rights,” you will have noticed, never seems to involve parents who want schools to be more open and accommodating toward gender nonconforming students. It’s never invoked for parents who want their students to learn more about race, identity and the darker parts of American history. And we never hear about the rights of parents who want schools to offer a wide library of books and materials to their children.

“Parents’ rights,” like “states’ rights,” is quite particular. It’s not about all parents and all children and all the rights they might have.

The reality of the “parents’ rights” movement is that it is meant to empower a conservative and reactionary minority of parents to dictate education and curriculums to the rest of the community. It is, in essence, an institutionalization of the heckler’s veto, in which a single parent — or any individual, really — can remove hundreds of books or shut down lessons on the basis of the political discomfort they feel. “Parents’ rights,” in other words, is when some parents have the right to dominate all the others.

And, of course, the point of this movement — the point of creating this state-sanctioned heckler’s veto — is to undermine public education through a thousand little cuts, each meant to weaken public support for teachers and public schools, and to open the floodgates to policies that siphon funds and resources from public institutions and pumps them into private ones.

The culture war that conservatives are currently waging over education is, like the culture wars in other areas of American society, a cover for a more material and ideological agenda. The screaming over “wokeness” and “D.E.I.” is just another Trojan horse for a relentless effort to dismantle a pillar of American democracy that, for all of its flaws, is still one of the country’s most powerful engines for economic and social mobility.

Ultimately, then, the “parents’ rights” movement is not about parents at all; it’s about whether this country will continue to strive for a more equitable and democratic system of education, or whether we’ll let a reactionary minority drag us as far from that goal as possible, in favor of something even more unequal and hierarchical than what we already have.

 This is the reality Virginia voters and voters across America need to understand when they go to the polls in November of this year and in 2024.   Republicans bloviating about "parents' rights" care nothing about most parents and most children.  Don't be fooled by the smoke screen.

Wednesday Morning Male Beauty


Tuesday, March 28, 2023

More Tuesday Male Beauty


Despite the GOP "Wokeness" Is Winning"

Despite Republian efforts to demonize gays, the transgender and drag queens and to ban books and rewrite a sanitized and very white version on American history, a new by the nonpartisan research institute NORC at the University of Chicago (funded in part by the Wall Street Journal) suggests that outside of the GOP base/Fox News alternate universe, Republican efforts are seemingly failing to changes the hearts and minds of a majority of Americans. Stated another way, what thrills the GOP's evangelical/Christofascist and white supremacist party base doesn't play well with the larger population. Will Republicans open their eyes to this reality?  Likely not given the ugliness and extremism of GOP primary voters and the desire of right wing outlets like Fox News, a/k/a Faux News, to give their viewrs what they want to hear rather than the truth and glimpses of objective reality.  A column in the Washington Post looks at the survey findings and the bubble  Republicans consistently seek to pander to.  Overall, the findings are encouraging for those who support equality and inclusion as opposed to hatred and division.  Here are column excerpts: 

“Wokeness” is winning, according to an illuminating new poll that should — but probably won’t — make Republican politicians wary of hitching their wagon to the anger-fueled culture wars.

The survey — conducted this month by the nonpartisan research institute NORC at the University of Chicago, with funding from the Wall Street Journal — found that on several hot-button issues related to “wokeness”, substantial majorities of Americans believe our progress toward inclusion and diversity is on the right track.

On “accepting people who are transgender,” 56 percent of respondents said our society “has been about right” or “has not gone far enough” — which should be lumped together as the “woke” positions, in my view, because they accept or welcome the way attitudes have changed. What I would call the “anti-woke” view, that we have “gone too far” in accepting transgender people, is held by 43 percent of those surveyed.

And it just gets more woke from there.

On “promoting equality between men and women,” 86 percent took the woke “about right” or “not gone far enough” positions, as opposed to 12 percent who espoused the anti-woke “gone too far” view. On “accepting people who are gay, lesbian, or bisexual,” the poll found respondents to be 69 percent woke versus 29 percent anti-woke. On “businesses taking steps to promote racial and ethnic diversity,” woke beat anti-woke, 70 percent to 28 percent. And on “schools and universities taking steps to promote racial and ethnic diversity,” wokeness ruled once again, 67 percent to 30 percent.

Even on the subject of pronouns, which GOP demagogues have sought to shift from the grammatical realm to the political, 58 percent of respondents were neutral or favorable toward the practice of specifying “he/him, she/her or they/them” in emails, on social media or in conversations; 42 percent were unfavorable.

In one of the poll’s most striking findings, respondents were asked, “Which of these concerns you more about schools today?” — and given the choice of two statements. A whopping 61 percent were more concerned that “some schools may ban books and censor topics that are educationally important,” as opposed to 36 percent who worried more that “some schools may teach books and topics that some students or their parents feel are inappropriate or offensive.”

It is always unwise to take any single poll as gospel. That said, the NORC survey is worth paying attention to because it appears to confirm what we see and hear all around us: Attitudes and language evolve. Americans my age remember a time, for example, when the LGBTQ community was widely shunned and closeted. My grandchildren, when they reach voting age, will wonder why people ever thought sexual orientation or gender identity was such a big deal.

Does the poll mean that MAGA activists will stop hectoring school boards to yank classics such as Nobel laureate Toni Morrison’s “Beloved” from library shelves? Sigh. Probably not.

It still shows a stark partisan divide. Seventy-five percent of respondents who identified as Republicans said we have “gone too far” in accepting transgender people, as opposed to just 15 percent of Democrats and 47 percent of independent voters. Majorities of Republicans also took the “gone too far” position on gay, lesbian and bisexual acceptance, and on promoting diversity in businesses, schools and universities — versus minorities of Democrats and independents who hold those views.

Some commentators, focusing on the poll’s findings about patriotism, religious observance and our national “character,” have suggested they see a retreat from what defines Americans.

But to me, the NORC poll shows Americans advancing in the right direction, toward inclusion rather than exclusion. It says most Americans don’t believe they’re living in a dystopia of “wokeism.” They’re just living in the here and now — not in the discriminatory, exclusionary past.

Monday, March 27, 2023

Tuesday Morning Male Beauty


More Monday Male Beauty


The MAGA Base Is a Frankenstein Monster

The Republican Party has become a fetid swamp filled with the embrace of ignorance and conspiracy theories and an explosion of bigotry and prejudice against anyone or anything that challenges the party base's world view to the extent it has one beyond being racist, homophobic and isolationist.  In my view the seeds for today's GOP base were planted over two decades ago when evangelicals were voted into party positions by the party elites who foolishly believed they could control the unwashed elements they were ushering in.  Instead, the ever fanatical base took control and the asylum was taken over by the delusional patients, if you will.  Now, although Trump remains skilled at playing the MAGA base's hatreds and prejudices, what has happened is that the base is now a Frankenstein monster that demands to be coddled andpandered to. Hence all of the Republican officeholders falling all over themselves to attack critical race theory, proper medical treatment for transgender youth and the passage of "don't say gay laws."  Many such officials, I suspect, don't believe half of what they spout to the base, but they are too terrified of having the MAGA base turn on them and defeat them in a primary and back a candidate either far more crazy or with no qualms about lying to tell the base what it wants to hear.  A piece in the New York Times looks how the MAGA base has become largely uncontrolable.  Here are excerpts:

The most telling exchange in Donald Trump’s Waco, Texas, rally on Saturday didn’t come from Trump himself. It came at the beginning, when the aging rock star Ted Nugent was warming up the crowd. “I want my money back,” he yelled. “I didn’t authorize any money to Ukraine, to some homosexual weirdo.”

Moments later, speaking on Real America’s Voice, a far-right television channel, the former Fox News correspondent Ed Henry called Nugent’s words “about Zelensky” and about funding for Ukraine, “amazing.” He then summed up the Trumpist movement’s race to the bottom in one succinct line: “He is channeling what a lot of Americans feel.”

Yes, he is. And so did virtually every speaker at Trump’s marathon rally. One after another, they looked at a seething, conspiracy-addled crowd and indulged, fed, and stoked every element of their furious worldview. I didn’t see a single true leader on Trump’s stage, not even Trump himself. I saw a collection of followers, each vying for the affection of the real power in Waco, the coddled populist mob.

To understand the social and political dynamic on the modern right, you have to understand how millions of Americans became inoculated against the truth. Throughout the 2016 Republican primaries, there was no shortage of Republican leaders and commentators who were willing to call out Trump. . . . . Yet every time Trump faced pushback, he and his allies called critics “elitist” or “fake news” or “weak” or “cowards.” It was much easier to say the Trump skeptics had “Trump derangement syndrome,” or were “just establishment stooges,” than to engage with substantive critique. Thus began the coddling of the populist mind . . .

Disagreement on the right quickly came to be seen as synonymous with disrespect. If “we the people” (the term Trump partisans apply to what they call the “real America”) believe something, then the people deserve to have that view reflected right back to them by their politicians and pundits.

We see this in the internal Fox News documents that surfaced in the Dominion defamation litigation, in which Dominion Voting Systems sued Fox News for broadcasting false claims about its voting machines after the 2020 election. Repeatedly, Fox leaders and personalities who did not seem to believe the 2020 election was stolen referred to the need to “respect” their audience by telling them otherwise.

I saw this phenomenon firsthand early in the Trump era. I was speaking to a small group of Evangelical pastors about how white Evangelicals no longer valued good character in politicians. Compared to other Christian groups and unaffiliated Americans, white Evangelicals went from the group least likely to believe that “an elected official who commits an immoral act in their personal life can still behave ethically and fulfill their duties” in 2011 to the group most likely to excuse immoral politicians in 2016.

In that conversation I discussed the 1998 Southern Baptist Convention Resolution on Moral Character of Public Officials. . . . . “Tolerance of serious wrong by leaders,” it said, “sears the conscience of the culture, spawns unrestrained immorality and lawlessness in the society, and surely results in God’s judgment.”

When I reminded the group of that language, a pastor from Alabama raised an objection. “That’s going to sound elitist to lots of folks in my congregation,” he said. I was confused. Here was a Baptist pastor telling me that his congregation would find a recent statement of Baptist belief “elitist.”

Politicians are always tempted to pander, but rarely do you see such a complete abdication of anything approaching true moral or political leadership as what transpired at the Waco rally. It began with that ridiculous and irrelevant statement about Zelensky . . . continued with MyPillow’s Mike Lindell repeating wildly false election claims; and ended with an angry, albeit boilerplate Trump stump speech that was also littered with falsehoods.

And if you think for a moment that there’s any Trumpworld regret over the Jan. 6 insurrection, the rally provided a decisive response.

There may have been a time when Trump truly commanded his movement. That time is past. His movement now commands him. Fed by conspiracies, it is hungry for confrontation, and rallies like Waco demonstrate its dominance. Like the pirate standing in front of Tom Hanks in the popular 2013 film “Captain Phillips,” the populist right stands in front of the G.O.P., conservative media, and even reluctant rank-and-file Republicans, and delivers a single, simple message: “I’m the captain now.”