Saturday, May 06, 2023

More Saturday Male Beauty


Clarence Thomas: A Study in Arrogance and Corruption

With almost passing week - if not day - new revelations of Clarence Thomas' use of his position on the Supreme Court as an ATM for receiving payments and, yes, let's call them what they are, bribes, from right wing figures are made public.   From lavish trips, to sweetheart real estate deals, to now outright but hidden payments to Thomas' nutbag wife, the parade of corruption goes on and on.  Meanwhile, Thomas arrogantly claims he did nothing wrong and expects the American public to believe that gifts totaling in all likelihood ten times his salary as an associate justice had no influence on his reactionary, anti-democratic rulings on the Court.  The latest revelation while not the largest monetarily is perhaps the most damning because it shows an effort was made to hide payments to Thomas' wife even as the donor filed briefs in voting rights cases seeking to gut the Voting Rights Act, brief urging the Court to allow states to disenfranchise voters, especially other blacks. It is far past time that Thomas be removed from the Court by whatever means necessary and, if Thomas had any sense of shame, he'd resign.  Sadly, hehas no shame and seemingly wnts to continue his corrupt activities.  A piece in the Washington Post looks at the latest damning bombshell to be made public.  Here are highlights:

Conservative judicial activist Leonard Leo arranged for the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas to be paid tens of thousands of dollars for consulting work just over a decade ago, specifying that her name be left off billing paperwork, according to documents reviewed by The Washington Post.

In January 2012, Leo instructed the GOP pollster Kellyanne Conway to bill a nonprofit group he advises and use that money to pay Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, the documents show. The same year, the nonprofit, the Judicial Education Project, filed a brief to the Supreme Court in a landmark voting rights case.

Leo, a key figure in a network of nonprofits that has worked to support the nominations of conservative judges, told Conway that he wanted her to “give” Ginni Thomas “another $25K,” the documents show. He emphasized that the paperwork should have “No mention of Ginni, of course.”

In all, according to the documents, the Polling Company paid Thomas’s firm, Liberty Consulting, $80,000 between June 2011 and June 2012, and it expected to pay $20,000 more before the end of 2012. The documents reviewed by The Post do not indicate the precise nature of any work Thomas did for the Judicial Education Project or the Polling Company.

The arrangement reveals that Leo, a longtime Federalist Society leader and friend of the Thomases, has functioned not only as an ideological ally of Clarence Thomas’s but also has worked to provide financial remuneration to his family. And it shows Leo arranging for the money to be drawn from a nonprofit that soon would have an interest before the court.

Of the effort to keep Thomas’s name off paperwork, Leo said: “Knowing how disrespectful, malicious and gossipy people can be, I have always tried to protect the privacy of Justice Thomas and Ginni.”

Leo’s statement did not address questions about whether he had arranged other work for Ginni Thomas or how much money he directed to her in all from the nonprofit.

Conway, who was a senior adviser in the Trump White House, did not respond to messages seeking comment.

In December 2012, the Judicial Education Project submitted an amicus brief in Shelby County v. Holder, a case challenging a landmark civil rights law aimed at protecting minority voters. The court struck down a formula in the Voting Rights Act that determined which states had to obtain federal clearance before changing their voting rules and procedures. Clarence Thomas was part of the 5-to-4 majority.

Thomas issued a concurring opinion in the case, arguing that the preclearance requirement itself is unconstitutional. Thomas’s opinion, which was consistent with a previous opinion he wrote, favored the outcome the Judicial Education Project and several other conservative organizations had advocated in their amicus briefs. He did not cite the Judicial Education Project brief.

Legal ethics experts disagreed about whether the arrangement outlined by Leo and the payments from Conway should have led Thomas to recuse himself from the Shelby case.

Federal law requires justices to recuse if their “impartiality might reasonably be questioned,” a standard that has not been well-defined as applied to filers of amicus briefs, the experts said. Law professor Kathleen Clark of Washington University said that if the Judicial Education Project paid Ginni Thomas $100,000 in the year and a half before it filed its brief, the size and timing of the payments would have been enough to cast doubt on Clarence Thomas’s impartiality and require his recusal.

[E]xperts said the arrangement shows that current ethics rules and disclosure requirements fail to protect public confidence in the independence of the courts.

“The idea that Leonard Leo, who has a passionate ideological interest in how the court rules and who has worked hard for years to advance that interest, could pick up the phone and generate substantial compensation to Virginia Thomas, which also benefits Clarence Thomas — that idea is bad for the country, the court and the rule of law,” Gillers said. “It’s not the way the Supreme Court should do its business or allow its business to be done.”

The effort to keep Ginni Thomas’s name off paperwork makes the arrangement seem “more egregious,” said Clark.

Leo, 57, has for years been the behind-the-scenes leader of a network of interlocking nonprofits that has raised and spent hundreds of millions of dollars to support conservative judges and causes. Marble Freedom Trust, one of the organizations Leo chairs, received a contribution worth $1.6 billion in 2020 from a Chicago businessman, Barre Seid.

Clarence Thomas has been under scrutiny since ProPublica revealed in April that Texas billionaire Harlan Crow took him on lavish vacations and also bought from Thomas and his relatives a Georgia home where Thomas’s mother lived; the transaction was not listed on the justice’s annual disclosure forms.

Senate Democrats this week held a hearing focused on Supreme Court ethics. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. declined an invitation to testify, offering instead a statement signed by all the justices in which they reaffirmed their commitment to abide by “foundational ethics principles and practices.”

During the hearing, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) mentioned Leo, who The Post has reported used the nonprofit network during the Trump administration to conduct publicity campaigns in support of nominees he helped select. “This guy doesn’t have business before the court,” Whitehouse said. “His business is the court.”

Saturday Morning Male Beauty


Friday, May 05, 2023

More Friday Morning Male Beauty


Britain's Warning To America

With House Republicans threatening to drive America to default on its debt as they pander to a base in many ways similar to the British voters who voted for Brexit - i.e., racist, xenophobic, harboring delusions of restoring a distant past, and bearing hatred towards "elites, and a "Britain First" mindset, among other things - the results the pro-Brexit vote has brought on Britain should be a warning to Americans.  Thanks to Brexit, Britain is poorer, inflation is unduly high, trade continues to be disrupted, and the average Briton has a falling standard of living.  All so that hatreds, prejudices and delusions could be satisfied.   Here in America, Republicans - especially the extremists in the House of Representatives - want the same for this nation and, just like the pro-Brexit politicians in Britain - are lying to their base about the true likely consequences of their hubris and extremism. Stirring up passion and greivance is all that matters and the irony is that working class and rural voters supporting such insane and irresponsible policies are thos most likely to suffer harsh economic consequences if the Republican agenda prevails.  A piece in The Atlantic looks at Britain's severe self-inflicted wound.  Here are high lights:

If you walked into a British supermarket this past winter, you were likely to see bare shelves in the salad aisle. Customers might have been limited in purchasing lettuce and tomatoes, if there was any lettuce or tomato to be found in the first place. Ask the grocers, and you’d hear technical explanations for the scarcity. . . . Behind all of these situational explanations, however, loomed a larger problem.

The temporary disappearance of some fresh fruits and vegetables for a few weeks in winter may be only a nuisance. Yet such nuisances are ramifying throughout the British economy, signals and symptoms of larger, system-wide trouble. British consumers are spending less on new clothes and shoes than they did in 2018 and 2019. The British are holding on to their cars longer: The average age of the vehicles on British roads has reached 8.7 years, a record. The British made about 2 million fewer trips abroad in 2022 than they did in 2018 and 2019, an almost 20 percent decline. Lingering COVID concerns offer a partial explanation. But the UK and most of its European Union neighbors had dropped most travel restrictions in January 2022 and the remainder by March.

Altogether, Britain is expected to be the worst performing of the world’s 20 biggest economies this year. The British government’s official forecaster predicts that after-inflation household incomes will decline by an average of 7.1 percent over the three years ending in spring 2024. On the present trajectory, Britain will not return to 2019 levels of disposable income until 2027. By 2024, the average British household will likely have a lower living standard than the average household in Slovenia. On present trends, the average British household will be poorer than the average in Poland by 2030.

[T]he slowdown of the British economy cannot be explained by COVID. Italy has suffered more deaths from COVID than any other major European country has, yet its economy had mostly recovered to pre-pandemic levels by the end of 2021.

Britain is now paying the price for its decision to leave the European Union. Britain voted to exit in the summer of 2016. The departure was formalized on December 31, 2020. Since then, new barriers to trade, investment, and movement have risen between Britain and its nearest neighbors. Investment in Britain has tumbled, and the British economy has shrunk. By one authoritative estimate, Britain is 4 percent poorer today than if it had stayed in the EU.

Many in the British government are reluctant to acknowledge this reality. Huw Pill, the Bank of England’s chief economist, lamented in a recent podcast interview, “What we’re facing now is that reluctance to accept that, yes, we’re all worse off.”

These costs don’t necessarily make Brexit a “mistake.” Brexit was a trade: less prosperity for more sovereignty. Countries reasonably make such trades all the time.  . . . But the British were not honestly alerted to the cost of their choice. In 2016, future Prime Minister Boris Johnson campaigned for Brexit in a big red bus carrying a huge printed message: We send the EU £350 million a week. Let’s fund our NHS instead.

The British were promised that Brexit meant more: more resources for public and private consumption. Instead, Brexit has predictably turned out to mean less, and the British are surprised, baffled, and angry.

With the country’s finances in a post-pandemic, post-Brexit mess, the British government has squeezed the pay of health-care providers. Between 2010 and 2022, nurses have suffered a nearly 10 percent decline in their pay after adjusting for inflation; junior doctors have lost much more, according to some estimates. Many have emigrated: One in seven U.K.-trained doctors now works abroad, according to a Financial Times analysis.

Britain is compensating by importing health-care providers from Africa and Asia. Yet this contradicts another central promise of Brexit: less immigration.

The British will vote in a national election probably sometime in 2024. You would think this coming election would be the appropriate time to assess the country’s choices and consider whether to choose a different path. You’d think wrong.

Brexit rearranged British politics in surprising ways. Brexit was backed by the Tory right and the Labour left. The Leave vote was highest in the Labour strongholds of the Midlands and northeastern England; Remain was strong in the affluent areas of London and the Tory south of England.

Labour leader, Keir Starmer, campaigned against Brexit in 2016. To win the next election, however, Starmer must recover northern English seats lost to the Conservatives in 2019. And so, even as polls show that a big majority of British voters now regard Brexit as a mistake, Starmer has pledged not to reverse course.

In economic terms, Brexit means that British people must work harder and consume less. But Starmer’s 10-point manifesto for 2024 promises more consumption: more spending on health and public services. That would be a difficult-enough promise for today’s Brexit-hobbled British economy. Starmer undertakes to make the future British economy even less efficient than today’s, by joining more spending to more government management of key industries, specifically railways, energy, and public utilities.

Britain is a society of tremendous capabilities: deep political stability and rule of law, a highly educated and skilled population, a world-spanning language, the planet’s most recognized and admired cultural institutions. . . . But developing those assets means accurately assessing Britain’s liabilities, and fearlessly developing plans to overcome them. That assessing and planning will require honest communication with Britain’s voters.

The next government of Britain will likely be a Labour government led by Keir Starmer. It fell to Starmer’s greatest Labour predecessor, Clement Attlee, to explain to the British people where they stood after the Second World War. Addressed as public-spirited adults, the British people met the challenge, shouldered the burden, and built new prosperity. They can do it again—if led in the same forthright way.

Be afraid of where the Republicans seek to take America. 

Thursday, May 04, 2023

Friday Morning Male Beauty


More Thursday Male Beauty


Tucker Carlson and the Lynch Mob Mind

I have long thought Tucker Carlson to be a loathsome individual, peddling hatred, falsehoods and deliberately fanning division and greivance among Fox News viewers,  The emails and taxt messages that emerged from the Dominion Voting Systems lawsuit against Fox News have shown that Carlson was far worse than I and others thought.  Not only did Carlson know he was lying, but he justified it simply to keep viewers happy and tied to Fox rather than seeking other propaganda outlets that would pander to their delusions and hatreds.  Worse yet, a newly revealed text messages shows that Carlson was fine with others being injured or killed.  He bought into a lynch mob mentality where he rooted for a group to kill a young man Carlson labeled "Antifa."  A column in the New York Times looks at this moral sickness and in the process recounts a actual lynching which represents precisely the accurate presntation of history that Carlson and the likes of Ron DeSantis and Glenn Youngkin would prefer students never learn about.  Yes, it's ugly but it happened and the nation needs to take a good look at some of its horrible past.  Here are column highlights:

I have always been interested in the psychology of lynch mobs. How did the people in these mobs — made up mostly of white men in the American accounts I’ve read — rev themselves up to peak barbarity? At what point did their humanity go dormant and bloodlust consume their beings?

I have stared at the pictures of glassy-eyed men and boys (and sometimes women) standing beneath dangling bodies or standing above charred ones. I have read the histories of communities consumed by the desire to not only kill, but to mutilate.

In 1893, Henry Smith, a Black man accused of killing a white girl, was lynched in Paris, Texas, before a crowd estimated at 10,000 people. As The Times reported at the time in a story headlined “Another Negro Burned”: “Officers saw the futility of checking the passions of the mob, so the law was laid aside, and the citizens took into their own hands the law and burned the prisoner at the stake.”

Smith was paraded through the streets on a carnival float, then tied to a scaffolding. His body was burned with “red-hot” irons “inch by inch until they were thrust against the face.” His eyes were burned out and the hot irons shoved down his throat. The scaffolding was doused with kerosene and set ablaze.

Why does this kind of thing happen? The sentiments expressed in one of Tucker Carlson’s text messages may offer a window.

The Times reported Tuesday that one of the texts that most likely contributed to Carlson’s firing from Fox News was one he sent to a producer, describing a video of a street fight in which “a group of Trump guys surrounded an Antifa kid” and beat him. “Jumping a guy like that is dishonorable obviously,” Carlson continued. “It’s not how white men fight.”

He then confessed: “Yet suddenly I found myself rooting for the mob against the man, hoping they’d hit him harder, kill him. I really wanted them to hurt the kid. I could taste it. Then somewhere deep in my brain, an alarm went off: This isn’t good for me.”

That’s a lot to unpack.

To start, Carlson attempts to racialize the idea of dishonor in combat, exempting white men from it, which is ridiculous. Human beings behave both honorably and dishonorably, regardless of race.

But more important to me was his description of his immediate descent into sympathizing with the savagery, and how that kind of descent is a mental progression that has, in so many instances, fostered or tolerated all types of violence in this country and around the world.

Bryan Stevenson, the founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative — which operates a national memorial for lynching victims in Montgomery, Ala. — told me we make a mistake when we think of all the people who participated in lynchings and other types of mobs as akin to Klansmen.

As he explained, “The people who participated in mob violence were teachers and lawyers and police officers and ministers and journalists. In fact, the media facilitated much of this violence by characterizing it as righteous.”

And “rooting for the mob against the man,” as Carlson described his feelings, is a passive form of participation. It is encouragement. It is license.

There is an entire body of research around mob violence that helps to contextualize Carlson’s response. As Stuart Stevenson, a lecturer at the University of East London, wrote in 2021, “A lynch mob gives its members a sense of intoxicating power; a promise of safety from the most persecutory and primitive anxieties.”

The incident Carlson was describing was a street fight, not a lynching in the classical sense, but by his own account, at least briefly, he wanted the attackers to take their attack to the ultimate end. In that moment, Carlson wanted the taking of the life of someone he described as an “Antifa creep.”

He pulled back from that instinct, realizing that hating someone for his apparent political views was wrong, and that the people who loved “that kid” would be “crushed” if he was killed.

Make no mistake, though: What Carlson could “taste” in the heat of that moment he recounted was the power to assign death.

Wednesday, May 03, 2023

Thursday Morning Male Beauty


More Wednesday Male Beauty


The Justices’ Lack of Ethics Is Fueling SCOTUS's Legitimacy Problems

The Supreme Court of theUnited States has two forces driving down its legitimacy to record lows: (i) far right opions soaked in religious belief that are very unpopular with a majority of Americans and (ii) the shocking lack of eithics on the part of a number of justices, not the least of which is Clarence Thomas followed by Neil Gorsuch and Samuel Alito, the latter of whom has a mind set right out of the Spanish Inquisition.  By engaging in conduct that would likely cause lower level federal judges to be removed from the bench, these justices make a mockery of the law and put their biases and prejudices on display while demonstrating a level of arrogance that is shocking.  Indeed, with their lifetime appointments, they obviously feel they can do whatever they want and ethics and some shred of shame are out the window. The fact that the falsely labeled "conservative" justices - they are radical, not conservative - are increasingly blatant in the partisan activities just adds icing to the tone defeaf and unethical cake.  They seem incapable of any hint of self-awareness as to how they behavior looks to the pblic.  A column in the Washington Post looks at the right wing justices undermining the Court's legitimacy.  Here are excerpts:

It wasn’t a “high-tech lynching” three decades ago, when the Senate Judiciary Committee considered Anita Hill’s allegations against Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas. And it is not a high-tech lynching for the committee to debate the ethics of now-Justice Thomas’s behavior and consider what steps are needed to address the broader issue.

But that was where the committee found itself on Tuesday. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) called the Thomas conversation a “shameful reprise of 1991’s high-tech lynching” and decried what he called a “political campaign designed to smear” the justice.

Former federal judge Michael Luttig submitted written testimony for Tuesday’s hearing, and the conservative jurist got to the heart of the matter. Justices, he wrote, must “conduct themselves in their nonjudicial conduct and activities in such a manner that they are individually deserving of respect — indeed, beyond reproach, not only in fact, but also in appearance. This, at all times and places, in both public and in private.”

Can that seriously be said of Thomas and his acceptance of lavish travel, gifts and other benefits from Republican megadonor Harlan Crow, year after year after year? The yacht. The private jet. The purchase of his mother’s home. All unreported.

But while justices must follow rules, they also need to exercise judgment — to behave in a way that is, as Luttig said, “beyond reproach.” And here is where the jaw-dropping extent of the largesse — from a single source, from an ideological and political actor, from a man Thomas did not know before he became a justice — becomes so questionable.

Consider how Crow and his wife became, as Thomas said in a statement, “among our dearest friends.” They met on Crow’s private jet: As he told the Dallas Morning News, Crow was meeting with the conservative National Center for Policy Analysis. When officials mentioned that Thomas was speaking to the group in Dallas, Crow offered the justice a lift, since he and the jet were headed home. Other rides would follow. This is no ordinary friendship.

But the Republican whataboutism doesn’t prove what Republicans think it does. They see the lack of attention to the ethical lapses of justices appointed by Democrats as evidence of an effort to “delegitimatize the Supreme Court” now that it is firmly in conservative hands. I see it as proof that the problem is systemic, and that something needs to be done — especially because the justices seem incapable of acting on their own.

Which is why it was such a shame that Tuesday’s hearing was more theatrics than theory. There are important questions about whether current financial disclosure rules need to be tightened or better enforced. There are complicated questions of constitutional law and institutional logistics about how a code of conduct would be enforced if the court were to adopt one — either voluntarily or by congressional fiat.

That is not the conversation this Senate is capable of having. Instead, Republicans insist on exhuming ancient grievances about nominations past (Robert H. Bork, Miguel Estrada, Janice Rogers Brown). They peddle false equivalencies . . .

Former George W. Bush attorney general Michael Mukasey, testifying for Republicans, warned that “the public is being asked to hallucinate misconduct so as to undermine the authority of Justices who issue rulings with which these critics disagree, and thus to undermine the authority of the rulings themselves.”

No hallucinogens required. This court is doing a bang-up job of undermining its authority, all on its own.

Wednesday Morning Male Beauty


Monday, May 01, 2023

More Monday Male Beauty


The Republican Effort to Erase Trans (and LGBT) People

I have long argued that evangelicals and Christofascists seek to denigrate and demonize - if not erase and eliminate - anyone and anything that challenges their 12th century, myth based beliefs.  Special hatred and cruelty are reserved for gays and transgender individuals who by their very existence challenge the myth that god created the nuclear family with only male and female at is head and that  marriage is god ordained as between "one man and one woman."   Never mind that many Old Testament figures had multiple wives not to mention concubines.  Never mind that medical and mental health science - as well as examples throughout the animal kingdom - demonstrate that homosexuality is a normal phenomenon. Facts, science and reality are never allowed to challenge the writings of Bronze Age goat herders.  Now, with evangelicals and Christofascists controlling much of the primary voting base of the GOP, in GOP controled state after state legislation is being enacted that seeks to erase and/or denigrate tansgender and LGBT people as a means of thrilling this ugly segment of voters.  Between blocking health care for transgender youth (and adults in some instances) and barring any discussion of sexual orientation from schools, it is all about making us disappear with no worry about the harm being done.  A piece at Salon looks at this effort and its desired cruelty.  Here are highlights:

The most recent Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) was an anti-trans hatefest, but even by their low standards, the effort by D-list speaker Michael Knowles to get attention was revolting. "There can be no middle way in dealing with transgenderism," he declared, successfully beating Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene in the headline-attracting contest. "For the good of society, transgenderism must be eradicated from public life entirely."

It was a well-crafted troll, garnering not just outrage, but creating an opportunity for right-wingers to pretend Knowles wasn't saying what he was obviously saying. Sure enough, when progressives pointed out that Knowles' rhetoric is genocidal — that you can't eradicate "transgenderism" without eradicating trans people — there was a tedious and predictable explosion of disingenuous umbrage-taking on the right.

The angels-dancing-on-heads-of-pins argument that you can somehow separate hatred of trans "ideology" from hatred of trans people has always been bad faith. And that was once again proven this week in Montana, where Republicans voted for the removal of a trans legislator from the state house. 

It all started last month, when Montana Republicans brought up a bill to bar trans kids from receiving gender-affirming care, such as puberty blockers. The bill, like those in other states, is being justified with false accusations that adults are pressuring minors into transitioning, allowing anti-trans people to claim they are "protecting" children. All of these bills restricting trans rights to health care and public accommodation are not about "protecting children," much less some vague claim about "ideology." It's about a belief that trans people should be booted from public life altogether — in a word, eradicated. 

So last week, Democratic state representative Zooey Zephyr, who is trans, denounced the bill by saying, "I hope the next time there's an invocation, when you bow your heads in prayer, you see the blood on your hands."

For this, Zephyr has now been barred from the state house floor in a party-line vote held Wednesday. Republicans claim it wasn't just her words, but because she supposedly encouraged a protest on her behalf on Monday. That excuse doesn't fly, however, as the protest was in response to earlier Republican efforts to silence Zephyr by cutting her microphone and barring her from debate. 

Republicans claim this is not about trying to erase the voice and presence of the only trans person in the state legislature from debate about what kind of health care trans people are allowed to have. Instead, as with the bad faith justifications for the similar "Tennessee Three" expulsion votes earlier this month, there's a lot of Republican lip-flapping about "decorum" and "civility."

This is transparent nonsense anywhere, but especially in Montana, where the Republican governor was literally convicted of using violence to silence a journalist who had done nothing more than ask him a question. 

Obviously, the party that's about to re-nominate Donald Trump for president, even after he incited an insurrection, does not care about "decorum." They do care very much about doing whatever they can to silence, erase, and yes, eradicate trans people. As Zephyr told NBC News, she is not being "hyperbolic" when she says Republicans are killing people with anti-trans bills. Studies show anywhere from 40-56% of trans and non-binary young people have attempted suicide, with higher rates in red states. Research published by the American Academy of Pediatrics shows that gender-affirming care like puberty blockers is highly effective at reducing suicidal ideation in young people. 

It's hard to avoid the conclusion that Republicans would rather have young people be dead than trans. Sounds harsh, but this is the same party that's more avid about banning books than banning guns, as well. And the same party that is passing draconian abortion bans, even as the evidence piles up that it's maiming and will likely start killing women to do so. Republicans simply don't care who their policies kill, so long as they get to control who you are, how you use your body, and even what you're allowed to think about. 

With Gianforte, the cruelty is incredibly personal. His own son, David Gianforte, identifies as non-binary and has publicly pleaded with his father to veto this anti-trans bill, writing that "these bills are immoral, unjust, and frankly a violation of human rights." Yet Gov. Gianforte has publicly demurred when asked if his own child's concerns bother him enough to reconsider signing a bill he has been eagerly supporting so far.

Meanwhile, outside of Montana, the genocidal impulse towards LGBTQ people continues to animate the Republican Party.

In Florida, Republicans dramatically expanded the "don't say gay" bill to high school students, in an overt effort to force teenagers back into the closet. They also passed provisions to criminalize gender-affirming care for minors, threatening parents and medical providers with prison if they want to save the lives of trans youth. To make the situation uglier, Florida Republicans have also passed a bill that would make it legal for the state to remove trans children from the homes of parents who support their gender identity. . . . Not that Republicans care how much psychological damage they would do to children by going this route. Causing pain to those who they see as "different" is the entire point. 

Rex Huppke of USA Today argued there is "some good to be found in seeing what the smallness of Republicans in the Montana Legislature did to Zooey Zephyr. By trying to silence her, they made sure she was heard." She went from a relatively unknown politician to a national figure. . . She's not a threat to kids, but she is trying to protect them. 

 That visibility terrifies Republicans. It's why they threw a national tantrum over Budweiser sending some beers to trans influencer Dylan Mulvaney. They see Mulvaney, who has 1.8 million Instagram followers, as a threat simply because she's cute and charming. She reveals the truth they want so badly to hide, which is trans people are fine the way they are and should be allowed to be themselves. Not erased from existence, as Republicans clearly intend with their anti-trans legislation. 

Be very afraid.

Monday Morning Male Beauty


Sunday, April 30, 2023

More Sunday Male Beauty - Pt 2


Biden Dives Into Book Bans and the Culture War

As the warm up to the 2024 elections begins, Republicans are offering much of the same old warmed over policies that have dominated the party for the last decade or more: a reverse Robin Hood economic agenda giving tax cuts to the obscenely wealthy while slashing programs that benefit millions of Americans, including many red state rural voters (who are too stupid or too blinded by their hatreds to see they are yet again being played for fools) and a social agenda dictated by Christian extremists, with abortion bans being but one of the obsessions these fanatic, white Christian nationalists want to force on the nation.  Part of this latter agenda is erasing accurate and honest history of the nation and erasing anyone who does not subscribe to their 12th century, Pharisee-like religious dogma. All of whick leads to the issue of book banning which is opposed by 8 in 10 voters.  As noted in this morning's earlier post, Republicans care nothing about the will of the majority as they pander to their party's Christofascist/white supremacist base and vuture capitalists and gun manufacturers who fund their campaigns.  Given the majority's opposition to this agenda, Biden's re-election campaign has jumped into the culture wars, including book banning.  A piece in Politico looks at this welcome development.  Here are highlights:

Presidential campaigns often are waged on whether or not the country is ready to “turn the page.” President Joe Biden wants his reelection bid to hinge on whether or not there is a page to turn.

The president’s team has made the issue of book banning a surprisingly central element of his campaign’s opening salvos. He referred to GOP efforts to restrict curriculum — Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye” was the third most banned title in America last year — in his first two campaign videos. He presents himself in each video as the defender of the country’s core values, a bulwark against an extreme Republican Party rolling back America’s freedoms.

The campaign’s first TV ad, a 90-second spot running in seven states over the next two weeks as part of a seven-figure buy, warns Republicans “seek to overturn elections, ban books and eliminate a woman’s right to choose.” Biden followed up with a tweet hitting “MAGA extremists … telling you what books should be in your kids’ schools.” That followed the explicit reference to book bans in Biden’s launch announcement video Tuesday.

The early focus on book banning is part of the campaign’s attempt to reinforce a broader message, said one Democratic adviser involved in the effort: Biden is the only one standing between the American people and a Republican Party determined to roll back rights and limit freedoms.

The potency of book bans, along with issues like abortion and gun safety, is quite clear, according to multiple people familiar with the campaign’s data.

“Book banning tests off the charts,” said Celinda Lake, one of the Democratic pollsters who tested the issue for Democrats. “People are adamantly opposed to it and, unlike some other issues that are newer, voters already have an adopted schema around book banning. They associate it with really authoritarian regimes, Nazi Germany.”

The campaign’s private research aligns with public polling on the issue. A CBS News/YouGov poll in February found that more than 8 in 10 Americans opposed GOP efforts to ban books that focus on slavery, the civil rights movement and an unsanitized version of American history. And a Fox News survey this week found that 60 percent of Americans — including 48 percent of Republicans — find book bans problematic.

Republicans led by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who appears likely to run for president, have leaned into the culture wars by leading efforts to bar those books, and others about LGBTQ topics. . . . . Lake sees it as a political gift to Biden.

But book bans don’t just rankle parents of children under 18, who account for just less than 30 percent of the electorate. Some of the strongest responses in focus groups to GOP book bans came from Baby Boomers.

The Biden campaign has leaned hard into the contrast of “more freedom or less freedom,” as the president put it in his announcement video, co-opting a quintessentially American idea and a political theme more traditionally emphasized by Republicans.

In the TV spot pushed out Wednesday, Biden pointed to GOP restrictions in many areas — abortion rights, voting rights — election denialism and the party’s inaction on gun safety all under the umbrella of freedom. But polling and focus group research found that the messaging around book bans appealed in particular to moderates and swing voters who may have nuanced views on gender and identity but are far more clear-eyed about being told what books they can or can’t read.

Those voters — which include moderate Republicans, suburban voters and college-educated white people — are among the demographics that Biden’s team believes will be critical to win. They are also more likely to live in areas where conservatives have sought to impose restrictions on libraries and school boards.

“When we talk about them, usually in the context of DeSantis, these are the things that play very poorly with educated suburban voters,” she said, surmising that the campaign’s emphasis on book bans is at least partly about laying the groundwork for a general election match-up with DeSantis.

“They are positioning themselves to take on any candidate and to fight for those swing voters who put them over the top in 2020 and who are uncomfortable with some of the more extreme positions DeSantis and others are embracing,” Longwell said.

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Republicans Are Playing Into the Hands of Putin and Xi Jinping

In today's Republican Party, the only thing that matters is pandering to the increasingly ugly base of the party or, if you are Kevin McCarthy remaining Speaker of the House at any cost.  One of the costs McCarthy is only too willing to pay is damaging the best interests of America and playing into the hands of America's enemies. Conduct that in the past would have been deem traitorous - e.g., the January 6, 2021 insurrection - is perfectly fine as is indirectly aiding America's enemies so long as the haters and bigots of the party base are thrilled and one holds on to power.  Give the GOP's anti-abortion agenda, book banning, desire for unrestricted gun sales, and cultur wars, the wants and opinions of the majority (which oppose the GOP on these issues) simply does not matter.  A guest column in the New York Times by Hillary Clinton - who was, in my view, 100% correct in her evaluation of the dangers and unfitness of Trump - lays out how McCarthy and MAGA Republican extremists are playing directly into the hands of dictators like Vladimir Putin and China's Xi (not to mention pushing cuts that would harm millions of Americans).   Here are excerpts:

Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy is making a ransom demand. His hostages are the economy and America’s credibility. Mr. McCarthy has threatened that House Republicans will refuse to raise the federal government’s debt ceiling, potentially triggering a global financial crisis, unless President Biden agrees to deep cuts to education, health care, food assistance for poor children and other services.

Mr. McCarthy repeatedly invoked the threat of Chinese competition as justification. The speaker is right that this debate has significant national security implications — just not the way he says.

With Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine in its second year, tensions with China continuing to rise and global threats looming, from future pandemics to climate change, the world is looking to the United States for strong, steady leadership. Congressional brinkmanship on the debt ceiling sends the opposite message to our allies and our adversaries: that America is divided, distracted and can’t be counted on.

Let’s start by dispelling a myth. The debt ceiling debate is not about authorizing new spending. It’s about Congress paying debts it has already incurred. Refusing to pay would be like skipping out on your mortgage, except with global consequences. . . . defaulting on our debts could spark a worldwide financial meltdown.

Republicans in Congress have consistently voted to raise the debt ceiling with little drama when a fellow Republican is in the White House — including three times under President Donald Trump. But during Democratic administrations, they have weaponized the debt ceiling to extort concessions, despite the danger of default.

I was secretary of state during the debt ceiling crisis of 2011, so I saw firsthand how this partisan posturing damaged our nation’s credibility around the world.

I vividly remember walking into a Hong Kong ballroom that July for a conference organized by the local American Chamber of Commerce. Congressional Republicans were refusing to raise the debt ceiling, and the prospect of a default was getting closer by the day. I was swarmed by nervous businessmen from across Asia. . . . The regional and global stability that America had guaranteed for decades was the foundation on which they had built companies and fortunes. But could they still trust the United States? Were we really going to spark another worldwide financial crisis? And the question that no one wanted to ask out loud: If America faltered, would China swoop in to fill the vacuum?

Later that day, I headed to a villa in mainland China for a meeting with my counterpart, State Councilor Dai Bingguo. Over the years, I had heard monologues from Mr. Dai about America’s many supposed misdeeds, his criticisms at times bitingly sardonic but usually delivered with a smile. So I was not surprised when he, too, turned the conversation to the debt ceiling, barely containing his glee at our self-inflicted wound.

Fortunately, Congress and President Barack Obama finally reached an agreement to raise the debt ceiling before careening into the fiscal abyss. But the S&P still fell 17 percent, consumer and business confidence nose-dived, and the government’s credit rating was downgraded for the first time ever. After another crisis in 2013, the lesson was clear: Negotiating with hostage-takers will only embolden them to do it again.

Fast-forward a decade, and Republicans are playing the same game. Except now, the risks are even higher.

Today the competition between democracies and autocracies has grown more intense. And by undermining America’s credibility and the pre-eminence of the dollar, the fight over the debt ceiling plays right into the hands of Xi Jinping of China and Vladimir Putin of Russia.

America’s leadership around the world depends on our economic strength at home. Defaulting on our debts could cost the United States seven million jobs and throw our economy into a deep recession. Instead of the “arsenal of democracy” capable of outcompeting our rivals, dominating the industries of the future such as microchips and clean energy and modernizing our military, America would be hobbled.

Even setting aside this economic carnage, brinkmanship over the debt ceiling reinforces autocrats’ narrative that American democracy is in terminal decline and can’t be trusted.

Trust matters in international affairs. We frequently ask other nations to put their faith in the United States. Our military will be there to protect allies, our financial system is secure, and when we warn about compromised Chinese telecom equipment or an impending Russian invasion, we’re telling the truth. Threatening to break America’s promise to pay our debts calls all that into question.

Today America’s credibility will help determine whether nervous Europeans continue to stand with us and support Ukraine or seek an accommodation with an emboldened Russia. It could determine whether more Asian nations welcome American military bases and troops to deter Chinese aggression, as the Philippines recently did, or buckle to Beijing’s bullying.

There’s more. Playing games with the debt ceiling imperils the dollar’s pre-eminent position in the global economy and the power that gives the United States. . . . This is why Fareed Zakaria recently declared in a Washington Post op-ed that “the dollar is America’s superpower.”

It’s no surprise that Mr. Xi and Mr. Putin are eager to disrupt the dollar’s dominance and defang American sanctions. At their recent summit in Moscow, Mr. Putin suggested Russia may start selling oil around the world using Chinese yuan rather than dollars, which it is already doing for shipments to China.

If Congress keeps flirting with default, calls for dethroning the dollar as the world’s reserve currency will grow much louder — and not just in Beijing and Moscow. Countries all over the world will start hedging their bets.

It’s a sad irony that Mr. McCarthy and many of the same congressional Republicans seemingly intent on sabotaging America’s global leadership by refusing to pay our debts are also positioning themselves as tougher-than-thou China hawks. They talk a good game about standing up to Beijing, yet they are handing a major win to the Chinese Communist Party.

Republicans should stop holding America’s credit hostage, shoulder their responsibilities as leaders and raise the debt ceiling.

Once again, she is 100% correct.

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