Nel's New Day

September 4, 2016

Trump ‘Off Rhythm’

trump among church goers

“Nothing is more transparent than inauthentic expressions of faith…. Some politicians come and clap—off rhythm—to the choir. We don’t need that.” Barack Obama made this statement in 2006, but it holds true for Donald Trump’s appearance yesterday in Great Faith International Church, a black church in Detroit.

After the NYT leaked the script for his private infomercial with Bishop Wayne Jackson of Great Faith Ministries, plans changed a little. Trump taped a private conversation with Jackson that may be released on Thursday after Trump’s campaign edits the video and then talked with the media. Trump shook some hands and held a baby. Trump sat in the front row next to Ben Carson and Carson’s wife along with Theresa “Omarosa” Manigault, his head of black outreach and former Apprentice contestant before he spoke for about 12 minutes. Trump left the service before it was half over. At 70, Trump, who infrequently attends church, made his first visit to a black church.

[The view from the back of the church.]

Trump black church

Trump began his speech with words reminiscent of his wife’s plagiarized speech at the GOP convention:

“I just wrote this the other day, knowing I’d be here, and I mean it from the heart and I’d like to just read it and I think you’ll understand it maybe better than I do in certain ways. I am here today to listen to your message.”

People inside and outside the church were skeptical of Trump’s words. Many thought he came for a photo-op instead of to listen. Denaria Thorn said that she had expected an apology for Trump’s treatment of blacks, but that didn’t happen. Thorn said that the speech “was pretty negative and it was very, very hurtful in fact.”

Kim Witten, who has belonged to the church for 20 years, said:

“When somebody wants something from you, and they say the right words—I would have liked to hear him say those things before he wanted something. It was a very good speech. Whoever helped him did a good job on it. But I know that he wants something.”

Trump said that “those who seek office do not do enough to step into the community and learn what’s going on,” yet Hillary Clinton has been doing that for over a half century. He accused Hillary Clinton of not being religious, but this is her answer to a woman about her faith in a town hall meeting last January:

Clinton Mount Zion church “Thank you for asking that. I am a person of faith. I am a Christian. I am a Methodist. My study of the Bible … has led me to believe the most important commandment is to love the Lord with all your might and to love your neighbor as yourself, and that is what I think we are commanded by Christ to do. And there is so much more in the Bible about taking care of the poor, visiting the prisoners, taking in the stranger, creating opportunities for others to be lifted up … I think there are many different ways of exercising your faith…. I am in awe of people who truly turn the other cheek all the time, who can go that extra mile that we are called to go, who keep finding ways to forgive and move on.”

Clinton began her social activism over 50 years ago in her local Methodist church, thanks to its youth pastor. The photo below shows Clinton preaching at the Foundry United Methodist Church, which she started attending with her family during her husband’s presidency. Clinton preachingTrump is now trying to picture himself as a “unifier,” a person who will bring “civil rights” to the nation. This is the same man who began his long history of racism by discriminated against blacks in the buildings he owned, a violation of the Fair Housing Act. In the 1980s he had all blacks ordered off the floor when he and his wife Ivana went to the casino, and he lobbied to demand the death penalty for four black and one Latino teenager after a jogger was raped in Central Park. After they were exonerated, Trump refused to apologize because, according to him, they were probably committing other crimes that night. His record at The Apprentice also demonstrates his prejudice against blacks. Until a few months ago, Trump pushed the idea that President Obama, born in Hawaii, was actually born in Kenya and that he was a good enough student to attend Columbia and Harvard Law School.

Trump is an equal opportunity bigot: he’s also made racist statements against Native Americans, Muslims, Hispanics, Asians, etc. Until a few months ago, Trump pushed the idea that President Obama, born in Hawaii, was actually born in Kenya and that he was a good enough student to attend Columbia and Harvard Law School. This running list of Trump’s racism shows a long-term pattern.

Part of his pandering to black voters uses the same claim that other Republicans use:

“Becoming the nominee of the party of Abraham Lincoln … has been the greatest honor of my life.It is on his legacy that I hope to build the future of the party, but more importantly, the future of the country.”

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump attends a church service, in Detroit, Michigan, U.S., September 3, 2016.   REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

Technically, he might be correct, but party philosophy changes. Democrats in the early 20th century were a combination of Southern white bigots and northern blacks and white progressives. The Dixiecrats flooded into the GOP after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 when GOP presidential nominee Barry Goldwater used his opposition to this law as part of his platform. Goldwater won only six states in the general election so the GOP used their “Southern Strategy”—race-baiting, discriminatory voter-ID laws, and opposition to affirmative action—to build the Republican party. Democrats were on the wrong side of history in the decades after the Civil War, but that was over a century ago. Now the Republicans are a party of exclusion and white supremacy.

The mayor of Detroit, Mike Duggan, said, “The difference between Donald Trump and Detroit is Detroit’s only gone through bankruptcy once.” Duggan also asked why Trump has converted to using scripted answers when he prides himself on speaking what he thinks.   Chuck Westbrook, a lifelong Detroit resident who attended the service, said Trump’s tone was unfamiliar, “like a weak little whisper from Donald Trump.”

Trump’s stop by Ben Carson’s old home in a Detroit suburb gave a touch of humor. When Trump talked with the house’s current resident, Felicia Reese, he told her that “this is a nice house” and that it’s “worth a lot of money.” She suggested that he might “come up with something associated with The Art of The Deal so I can sell it,” referring to the ghostwritten books published under Trump’s name. Asked how long he spent with her, Reese said, “Oh, just a minute or so. He was here briefly just to take some pictures.” The reporter asked what Reese might want people to know. She said, “Be polite.” And then, “go to vote.” She paused and added, “Democratic.”

The funniest piece of the visit can be seen on this 13-second clip as CNN’s Jeremy Diamond tries to interview Carson:

“We just saw Mr. Trump here and I asked him how did it go and he said ‘Great.’ He said he learned a lot of things. What do you think he took away from today?”

With a panicky look, Carson said, “Oh my luggage. Um—hold on.” And then he ran away. Other Trump surrogates might take notice of this method of avoiding embarrassing questions.

Trump’s constituency and the media have a very low bar for his “success.” He can read a speech, and the GOP leadership sighs with relief. He goes to a black church for the first time when he is 70, and all are agog. Hillary Clinton has been attending black churches, even preaching in them, for over 50 years, and the media focus on the what they perceive as the problems of her connection with the Clinton Foundation—which does very good work with 89 percent of donations contributed to charity.

Soledad O'BrienFormer CNN host Soledad O’Brien talked today about how the media has “normalized white supremacy”:

“I’ve seen on-air, white supremacists being interviewed because they are Trump delegates. And they do a five-minute segment, the first minute or so talking about what they believe as white supremacists. So you have normalized that.”

As she said, Trump claims that “Hillary Clinton, she’s a bigot,” and the media appears to make the two candidates equal as if the argument is simply “he said, she said” instead of one of them lying. O’Brien added that news outlets are rewarded for bad behavior because they like the big audiences for “hateful speech.” In effect, the media is responsible for Trump’s successes after he had only a ten-percent following during the primaries. And they continue to do it: over and over today, I heard about Clinton’s “unlikability” but nothing about Trump’s greater unfavorable ratings. The media will control the 2016 presidential election.

August 21, 2016

‘God’s Catastrophes’: The New Normal

Far-right Christian fundamentalist have a pattern of blaming all disasters on LGBT people. At first, it was just natural disasters such as the California drought of 1978, but then gays blamed for health pandemics. The only time that Ronald Reagan publicly spoke about AIDS just before the end of his second presidential term in 1987 was in his first year in office when he said, “May be the Lord brought down the plague because illicit sex is against the Ten Commandments.”

Finally evangelical leaders blamed LGBT people for every problem, including the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in 2001. In Pat Robertson’s eyes, they shared responsibility with “pagans,” “abortionists,” “ACLU,” and everyone else “who have tried to secularize America.” Pope Benedict XVI expanded the blame by warning that same-gender marriage will “threaten … the future of humanity itself.”

Republicans, however, may be suffering from these disasters. Four years ago, Hurricane Isaac forced the GOP to shorten their convention in Tampa. This month, the disastrous Louisiana deluge flooded the home of Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council, and his Greenwell Springs Baptist Church.  Forced to flee his home in a canoe, Perkins failed to see the event as a punishment but instead “an incredible, encouraging spiritual exercise … with an almighty and gracious God who does all things well.”

An increasing number of people, however, are realizing that human-created climate change cause recent natural disasters. Belief that climate change is caused by human activities has reached an all-time high of 65 percent, up almost 20 percent from 55 percent last year. Even 40 percent of Republicans understand that climate is caused by people, up nine points from last year. This poll was taken almost six months ago before the massive fires and floods of the summer and the discovery that July was the hottest month in history. Other drastic climate-related effects include glaciers’ melting, permafrost thawing, and sea levels rising.

Yet GOP politicians are panicking about the EPA “suggestion” that federal agencies consider the impact on climate when making decisions such as mine permits, dam installations or removal, and roads construction near protected habitats. Their position is that this “guidance” has “no legal basis,” as summarized by GOP chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, James Inhofe of Oklahoma, known for using a snowball to prove that climate change doesn’t exist.

Some of these Republicans may hate Trump for what he’s doing to their political party, but they agree with him in denying climate change. Editors of Scientific American, who have always tried to be apolitical, call the 2016 election “something special,” that “it takes antiscience to previously unexplored terrain.” Trump slammed global warming as a “Chinese plot,” threatened to eradicate a climate agree that’s taken 20 years to create, and promised to eliminate the federal agency that tries to provide clean air and water for U.S. residents.

The flooding in Louisiana is the most recent disaster from climate change. With 6,900,000,000,000 gallons of rain in one week—and more than 31 inches of rain in 15 hours at one location—the calamity is the worst since the 2012 Superstorm Sandy. Part of the catastrophe is the housing crisis. Damage to over 100,000 homes has left 102,000 people thus far applying for federal disaster aid across 20 parishes. The shortage of habitable homes for rent only makes their situation worse as water rises in some places as it drains south across the flat land. FEMA offers grants of up to $33,000 in disaster areas for repairs, but many people have lost everything because they didn’t have flood insurance.

The flood is called “a 1,000-year event,” but that prediction is based on the climate a century ago and not today. At the University of Washington, Eric P. Salathé studies the intersection of climate change and flooding and explains that the issue is the temperature. Warmer air—as experienced in July—carries more water than cooler air, causing much more rainfall in storm. According to a federal government meteorologist, the Louisiana storm would have produced little rain 40 years ago before the current climate warming. For those who think the disaster has abated, storms and flash floods have moved into Texas.

One way to protect residents in the area is stricter zoning laws, something that conservatives avoid, especially when a similar disaster might not happen for 50 years. Communities have the choice of rejecting development opportunities in the immediate future or putting citizens in danger in the long term—and they usually pick the immediate gratification. Especially when they think that God is the cause of this misery and they can do nothing to protect themselves!

As people suffer from the flooding, Republicans use the situation as a political football instead of working to help them. They deride President Obama for not immediately taking an entourage to the state, causing more expense and confusion. Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said that he would never ask the president not to visit, but he did say this to the president and Valerie Jarrett, his senior advisor:

“I asked them to let us get out of the response mode where we were still conducting searches of houses, and we were still making rescues. I didn’t want to divert these police officers, sheriff’s deputies and state troopers and other essential resources and assets to providing security for the president while they were needed in this region to undergo those—or to undertake those response activities. And I asked that if he could wait until the response was over and we got into the recovery phase, which I predicted we would do over the weekend and certainly next week would be a better time for us to visit. But the president is welcome to come to our state anytime that he wants to.”

Donald Trump, on the other hand, drained these resources while ridiculing President Obama for waiting until the appropriate time for a visit. As Trump spent only 49 seconds in Baton Rouge unloading Play Doh from a truck, he obviously wanted only a photo-op. At the same time, President Obama ensured that people receive immediate federal resources and disaster relief.

Edwards’ office commented about Trump’s visit:

“Gov. Edwards wasn’t informed of the Trump campaign’s visit to the state or the schedule. We welcome them to Louisiana, but not for a photo-op. Instead we hope they’ll consider volunteering or making a sizable donation to the LA Flood Relief Fund to help the victims of this storm.”

After talking with Edwards, Hillary Clinton asked people to donate to either the Red Cross or the Baton Rouge Area Foundation.

In another “once in a lifetime event,” the Blue Cut fire in California went from a few acres to 30,000 in just 24 hours and forced the evacuation of 82,000 people. As the fire continued to spread, it destroyed at least 96 single-family homes and 213 outbuildings as well as an iconic inn. The extremely hot temperatures also causes the perfect conditions for wildfires. Usually fires this large don’t happen until fall, but climate change has caused the season to be much longer and much worse.

A year ago, a study a year ago reported that worsening wildfire seasons will occur within the coming years. Between 1979 and 2013, the average length of the season became 18.7 percent longer. Like the flooding in the United States, longer seasons are a “new normal.” In the decade before 2015, the U.S. paid $1.7 billion dollars to suppress wildfires. In California alone, the cost of fighting fires went from a few million dollars in the late 1970s to $550 million in 2015 alone. The carbon emitted by fires also hastens climate change, and forests will be less capable of taking CO2 from the atmosphere.

Fires have increased 500 percent on public land since the late 1970s. This year, the fire season started much earlier in California because a heat wave sent temperatures up to 120 degrees in southern parts of the state. Since 1970, summer temperatures have risen almost one-half degree every decade. The worst is yet to come between the end of September and December with the Santa Ana winds from the desert. The state’s fifth year of drought is also creating tinderbox forests.

Basically, people who think that they have no part in causing catastrophes because they come from God, deny any support to remediate climate change, refuse to support any regulations that would make their lives better, fight against “big government,” and try to take away any human rights that don’t fit in their religion want the rest of us to give them money when climate change bites them in ….  They hate President Obama but whine about his not rushing to Louisiana as soon as the flooding started. Hmmm.

August 14, 2016

Fundamentalism: Christianity = Capitalism

Jimmy Carter was the choice of evangelicals 40 years ago. It was a natural fit: he was a Southern Baptist who taught Sunday School, and Christians hoped for a theocracy. Four years later, they switched their allegiance to Ronald Reagan because Carter had weakly supported abortion and women’s rights. Four presidents after Reagan, evangelicals are supporting a twice-divorced casino owner who displays a woeful ignorance of the Bible and differed with almost all the evangelical positions until a recent, unconvincing conversion.

The question is why all those white Christian evangelicals are supporting Donald Trump by 49 percentage points—down from 60 points less than a month ago. One theory is that evangelicals like Trump’s authoritarian approach. Trump has strong similarities to the fundamentalist god—driven by whim and demanding loyalty, punishing those who stray from the pack. An important piece of Trump’s far-right following is his seeming ability to accumulate wealth—the “spirit of capitalism.”

In the early 20th century, Max Weber’s “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism,” explained how the Puritans’ promotion of self-flagellation through constant inward interrogation replaced the European rites of penance and forgiveness inculcated by the Catholic Church. From Puritanism came Calvin’s emphasis on business productivity—a “prosperity gospel.”

The end of state-established churches in 1820, vast resources in the New World,  and the rapid Westward expansion replaced the glumness of Calvinism with a “market revolution” supported by the rise of money-minded faiths such as the entrepreneurial Mormonism. The Pentecostal tent revival meetings of the early 20th century led to famous televangelists such as Jerry Falwell who went on to found what is now Liberty University almost 50 years ago and the wealth-worshipping of Norman Vincent Peale and megachurch pastor Joel Osteen. .

The early American work ethic, admiring purposeful work, disappeared as the new evangelicals worshipped the accumulation of wealth. Osteen preaches the value of capitalist heroes and calls Trump “an incredible communicator,” “a friend of our ministry,” and “a good man.”

Religious leaders didn’t develop their obsession with becoming rich on their own. Industrialists and business lobbies, distressed by Franklin D. Roosevelt’s determination to help the poor through regulations, recruited and funded fundamentalist pastors in the 1930s and 1940s to preach “faith, freedom and free enterprise,” as Kevin Kruse describes in One Nation under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America. The corporate rationale for the religious leaders was that Christianity and capitalism are the same: if you’re good you succeed and if you’re bad you fail. Kruse said:

“The New Deal, [corporations] argue, violates this natural order. In fact, they argue that the New Deal and the regulatory state violate the Ten Commandments. It makes a false idol of the federal government and encourages Americans to worship it rather than the Almighty. It encourages Americans to covet what the wealthy have; it encourages them to steal from the wealthy in the forms of taxation; and, most importantly, it bears false witness against the wealthy by telling lies about them. So they argue that the New Deal is not a manifestation of God’s will, but rather, a form of pagan stateism and is inherently sinful.”

The corporate campaign to use religion for its own ends largely succeeded with the election of Dwight Eisenhower in the 1950s. He put a Christian god put on U.S. currency and into the once-secular Pledge of Allegiance. After the election of progressive Democrats in the 1960s, business knew it needed to more heavily involve fundamentalist churches in politics, and Ronald Reagan was their success story. Once elected, he incorporated the term “God bless America” into all his speeches—the first time that this had happened except for Richard Nixon using the phrase once after the Watergate scandal.

Although he voiced acceptance of all religions, George W. Bush extended the policy of bringing Christianity into the federal government. His presidency was a time when religious groups received tax money, and Bush focused on faith-based governance while increased the coffers of the wealthy by reducing their taxes. During President Obama’s terms, many states became increasingly conservative, pushing punitive laws on issues such as women’s and LGBT rights. Recently the courts have started controlling unconstitutional laws, but the next election will determine the direction of the United States, either toward more a secular or a more religious government, returning to Victorian times.

Trump Watch: Today may be Sunday, but Donald Trump never stops sending his outrageous tweets. He’s gone from blaming “rigged” elections for his drop in the polls to raging against what he calls the “disgusting” media after an article in The New York Times displeased him. The day after the RNC agreed to work with Trump’s campaign in Florida, he issued a number of tweets targeting the newspaper before expanding his vitriol to indicting media in general. Now he claims that the media is protecting Hillary Clinton:

“I am not only fighting Crooked Hillary, I am fighting the dishonest and corrupt media and her government protection process. People get it!”

The NYT article cites anonymous Republicans describing the presidential candidate as “exhausted, frustrated and still bewildered by fine points of the political process.” He also may “be beyond coaching,” according to some of his advisors. Trump tweeted that he won’t be changing: “I am who I am.” Instead of campaigning today, Trump and his team tried to get people to cancel their subscription to the NYT. 

The RNC may publicly support their presidential candidate, but top party officials are privately feeding donors and journalists the position that Trump and his campaign are to blame for his slide in the polls. For example, Sean Spicer, the RNC’s top strategist, spoke to 14 political reporters about the many RNC resources deployed to swing states and the great strength of the GOP infrastructure.  He also said that RNC chair Reince Priebus calls Trump “five or six times a day” to coach the candidate. Spicer said that the deadline for supporting Trump is mid-October, but it could happen before that because early voting starts in September for some states. The RNC is holding off because it wants Trump to do more fundraising, but the RNC message to donors is to give the money to the RNC and not Trump.

While Trump now claims to have been sarcastic in his comment about President Obama being “founder of ISIS,” his vice-presidential candidate hasn’t heard that message. On Fox New Sunday, Pence said that Trump was being “serious” about the statement and “getting people’s attention.” At least Pence was right about the attention. The VP candidate also denied that the “sarcastic excuse” is “getting a bit old,” when host Chris Wallace asked him, because Trump “made his way through a very competitive primary.” Wallace finished the question by asking, “Are you the cleanup crew?”

Hillary Clinton has a projection of how many jobs she would bring to each state and how many jobs Trump would lose. In my state of Oregon, Clinton plus 130,364 jobs; Trump minus 42, 619 jobs. The differences in other states is far more staggering.

Trump says that he has no connection with Russia, but investigators have found the name of his campaign chair, Paul Manafort, along a record of $12.7 million in undisclosed cash payments to him from Ukraine’s former president, pro-Russian Viktor F. Yanukovych, in an illegal off-the-books system.

Tomorrow? Donald Trump lays out his plans for working with Muslim allies in the Middle East to defeat ISIS. Hmmm.

 

June 5, 2016

Conservative Governments Push Christianity with Taxpayer Funds

North Carolina’s law that forces all communities to maintain the lowest minimum wage and discriminate against veterans gained fame for keeping transgender people from the restrooms and other facilities that match their gender identities. Far-right religious conservative leaders are taking pride in proclaiming their determination to keep their version of Christianity in laws. For example, that state’s Lt. Gov. Dan Forest made the following statement on a far-right conspiracy theorist’s radio show. He justified HB2, the discriminatory measure, because “we have a lack of moral compass in our country right now, we’ve taken our eyes off God in America, we have turned our back on God, we have forgotten God in a lot of ways, so the moral compass is broken here.”

Forest continued by explaining that these discriminatory laws “discriminate against behavior, not against people.” He compares them to traffic laws: “If I want to go out and drive 95 miles an hour down the interstate in North Carolina because I feel like doing that, I don’t have the right to do that. It doesn’t mean the law is discriminating against me, it’s discriminating against my behavior of wanting to drive 95.” His logic is problematic: traffic laws aren’t created because people have “turned their backs on God.” The other piece of his illogical statement is that a car’s speed has nothing to do with a person’s sexual orientation or identity. Forrest also blamed the media for the entire controversy.

Phil Bryant, governor of Mississippi, is also busy defending his state’s new discriminatory law:  “About 60 days ago, it seemed as if all of the secular, progressive world had decided they were going to pour their anger and their frustration—their friends in the media willingly joining with them to bring all that they could upon the governor of the state…  How dare them [sic]. How dare them [sic].” He finished by stating that he was willing to be crucified for his beliefs against transgender people using the appropriate bathrooms.

In Iowa, Gov. Terry Branstad signed a proclamation in April encouraging “all Iowans” to participate in a statewide Bible-reading marathon, a declaration that the ACLU argues is unconstitutional. The marathon is scheduled for four days starting on June 30 and located in front of all 99 state courthouses. The declaration also states that “the Bible is recognized as the one true revelation from God” and that  “I, Terry E. Branstad, Governor of the State of Iowa, do hereby encourage all Iowans to read through the bible on a daily basis each year until the Lord comes.” The “Lemon test” for constitutionality, taken from the 1971 case Lemon v. Kurtzman , establishes three criteria for government action:

  1. Does the government action have a secular purpose?
  2. Does the government action have the primary effect of advancing or inhibiting religion?
  3. Does the government action foster an excessive entanglement between government and religion?

Violation of any one of the above violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment which prohibits the promotion of one religion over another. Both Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas objected to the Lemon test, but Scalia is gone from the court.

Mike Robertson, the mayor of Beebe (AR), has selected the celebration of the nation in its freedom from religious and other domination by Britain, to pay for a gospel band at the 4th of July festivity. His letter encouraging people to attend the concert read in part: “Their goal for the evening is to usher in the presence of god and to celebrate the Christian message. They feel privileged and honored to enjoy the freedom to honor Christ with any and all of their abilities.” Robertson’s justification of using taxpayer funds for a religious concert is that people can just stay home if they don’t approve.

Two years ago, Beebe approved a small temple in a garage, thinking that it was Christian, but then falsely claimed the zoning laws would prevent worship on that property after they found out that the temple would be pagan. Robertson’s justification of using taxpayer funds for a religious concert is that people can just stay home if they don’t approve. Beebe is also the town of under 10,000 where tens of millions of blackbirds have died in multiple years, possibly because of its fireworks during a temperature inversion. Or maybe God-created events against the city’s bigotry.

Not every government rejects all religions except Christianity. Philadelphia has followed New York City in adding two Muslim holy days to the school calendar. Students will be given the days off for Eid al-Fitr, celebrated following the month-long observance of Ramadan, and Eid al-Adha, which marks the willingness of Ibrahim (Abraham in Judaism and Christianity) to sacrifice his son for God.  In the upcoming school year, Eid al-Adha falls on September 13 and Eid al-Fitr on June 25, a Sunday.

The 2016-2017 Philadelphia school calendar has already been drafted so students and staff who wish to celebrate the two holidays will have excused absences. After that the Philadelphia school district will send the holiday dates to the School Reform Commission, which oversees Philadelphia’s public schools. These holidays vary each year as Muslims follow a Lunar calendar. Philadelphia is also exploring how to make the two holy days city holidays.

bible emoji

My favorite story of today! Emojis have popped up—briefly—almost everywhere, but they may have hit the ultimate location—the Bible.  Now available is the newest bible translation, Bible Emoji: Scripture 4 Millennials. This project follows The Twible: All the Chapters of the Bible in 140 Characters or Less … Now with 68% More Humor, published in 2013. Jana Riess’s four-year project translates the holy book into tweets; she sent out one tweet per chapter every day.

The creator of Bible Emoji used the translation engine Lingo Jam to automatically translate all 66 books of the Bible. The person chose about 80 emojis from Unicode and 200 corresponding words, linking each with words that are often repeated in the Bible. About 15 percent of the total character count of the biblical text was replaced with modern slang.

The anonymous author of the emoji version who represents himself or herself on Twitter, @emojiBible, shows God as a smiley face. The six-month project had a few glitches. One respondent suggested that the author might be wrong in emojing  “in the beginning angels created the stars & the earth.”

The emoji bible is an excellent example of how Western culture tries to colonize Africa, South America, and the Inuit communities. The bible emoji for prayer hands fails to represent cultures that pray without outstretched hands, and emojis of supernatural figures—angels, the devil, the halo, etc.—are pop Western cultural depictions.

Someday, texting will be passe, and people will communicate completely with emojis. Unfortunately, miscommunication will most likely be even more rampant as opposite little critters can look almost exactly alike. The same thing may happen in the emoji bible.

May 29, 2016

Samantha Bee, History of Anti-Abortion Movement

Jon Stewart’s disappearance from The Daily Show has left a great void in satirical—and educational—news on the comedy scene. Trevor Noah, the person sitting in Stewart’s chair, has openly declared that he won’t criticize the Fox network, and the only funny/educational pieces on his show come from his “correspondents.” Fortunately, Samantha Bee, formerly on The Daily Show, has a new show, Full Frontal, that more than fills in the gap. Although only weekly instead of Daily Shows’ four nights a week, it’s hard-hitting and direct, filled with information that many of us have missed. Last Monday’s show gave the background for the growth of the “pro-life before birth” movement.

Many people think that the evangelical right got riled because the U.S. Supreme Court made abortion legal in 1973. Bee gives the real reason. As Republican leaders worked to overturn the Democrats and make the United States a GOP dictatorship, they searched for an issue that would animate the Christian right into full-force political involvement. The first issue to coalesce right-wing Christians into a solid voting bloc was segregation. By the mid-1970s, however, that topic lost its popularity, and Paul Weyrich, founder of the conservative think tank Heritage Foundation, worked with preacher and Bible college founder Jerry Falwell to find another one. They hired up-and-coming SF filmmaker Frank Schaeffer to create the visual propaganda. The result was a film series, Whatever Happened to the Human Race, featuring his father, Francis Schaeffer, and future Surgeon General C. Everett Coop.

As Christina Cauterucci wrote:

“There are images of children with white faces painting in blood-red, baby dolls scattered on the shores of present-day Sodom; other baby dolls rolling down a conveyor into a garbage incinerator; and a real toddler crying in a cage, banging on the bars to escape. ‘Ten bucks says that kid is still ‘making films’ in the Valley,’ says Bee of the tot, who Schaeffer says was volunteered for the role by his California Christian parents.

“But the creepiest part of this early anti-abortion film fest is a cartoon Bee calls ‘Homeschool-house Rock.’ The video, made to screen at churches around the country to enlist them in a fight most evangelical leaders would have rather left to Catholics, shows evil doctors using hoses to suck up dancing fetuses wearing top hats and canes while scantily clad nurses drop-kick a series of swaddled infants. In the vein of so many propaganda films, it would seem like a hilarious parody if it weren’t such an effective, damaging piece of political messaging.”

anti abortion

Schaeffer has since expressed his regrets:

“One of the things that I did back in the day when I was young was help found, start, begin what became known as the ‘pro-life movement.’ It is the single greatest regret of my life.”

In a 2014 piece for Salon, Schaeffer wrote about the film series:

“We turned [the GOP] into an extremist far-right party that is fundamentally anti-American. There would have been no Tea Party without the foundation we built. The difference between now and then is that back then we were religious fanatics knocking on the doors of normal political leaders. Today the fanatics are the political leaders.”

The films didn’t make much of an impact on evangelicals at first.  Schaffer said, “They wanted to preach Jesus. They thought politics was dirty.” To turn the tide, former Rep. Jack Kemp put together 50 GOP congressmen to take on the cause and give it respectability. Bee has a clip of Dartmouth professor Randall Balmer who described the conference call in which GOP and evangelical leaders, including Jerry Falwell and Paul Weyrich, held a conference call to discuss what they should mobilize around now that segregation was over.

Frank Schaeffer wrote about the plans from the 1970s:

“Republican leaders would affirm their anti-abortion commitment to evangelicals, and in turn we’d vote for them — by the tens of millions. Once Republicans controlled both houses of Congress and the presidency, ‘we’ would reverse Roe, through a constitutional amendment and/or through the appointment of anti-abortion judges to the Supreme Court or, if need be, through civil disobedience and even violence, though this was only hinted at at first. In 2016, the dream we had will become a reality unless America wakes up. The Republicans are poised to destroy women’s rights. They have a majority on the Court to back them up.”

Schaeffer’s prescience is all too real—and horrifying. More details are available here.

Part of Bee’s seven-minute expose of the religious right hypocrisy explains that the Bible has no objection to abortion. By now, however, religious leader Jerry Falwell, praised by mainstream U.S. politicians, blames abortion for everything, including the 9/11 attacks. terrorist attack. In 2001, Falwell said, “The abortionists have got to bear some burden for this, because God will not be mocked.”

The anti-abortion movement is actually less than a half-century old. Jonathan Dudley wrote in 2014:

“In 1968, Christianity Today published a special issue on contraception and abortion, encapsulating the consensus among evangelical thinkers at the time. In the leading article, Professor Bruce Waltke, of the famously conservative Dallas Theological Seminary, explained the Bible plainly teaches that life begins at birth: ‘God does not regard the fetus as a soul, no matter how far gestation has progressed. The Law plainly exacts: ‘If a man kills any human life he will be put to death’ (Lev. 24:17). But according to Exodus 21:22–24, the destruction of the fetus is not a capital offense… Clearly, then, in contrast to the mother, the fetus is not reckoned as a soul.

“The magazine Christian Life agreed, insisting, ‘The Bible definitely pinpoints a difference in the value of a fetus and an adult.’ And the Southern Baptist Convention passed a 1971 resolution affirming abortion should be legal not only to protect the life of the mother, but to protect her emotional health as well.”

Born-again Christians at that time believed that the legality of abortion flowed from Scripture, but in the late 1970s  the far-right developed a coalition with Catholics, who had long believed that life begins at conception. At the same time, they formed a common cause with Catholics on other topics such as feminism and homosexuality while re-interpreting the Bible to follow the Catholic position on abortion. In 1980, Jerry Falwell’s book declared, “The Bible clearly states that life begins at conception… (Abortion) is murder according to the Word of God.” Through dissemination of this interpretation on the television, the GOP was co-opted by the religious right. For the first time in its 43-year history, the publisher InterVarsity Press had to withdraw a book, Brave New People, in 1984 because it repeated the 1970 evangelical consensus: abortion was a tough issue and warranted in many circumstances.

Rick Warren repeated Jerry Falwell’s lies during the 2008 presidential election: “The reason I believe life begins at conception is ‘cause the Bible says it.” GOP presidential candidate John McCain had to change his position from pro-choice to pro-life to be a viable candidate. Four years later, millions of evangelicals supported Mitt Romney, a Mormon, over Barack Obama because they had been brainwashed to believe that the Bible unequivocally forbids abortion. Last year, Donald Trump switched from his longtime pro-choice position to his current position–as of today–that women should punish themselves if they have an abortion.

Jack Kemp may have physically died in 2009, but he lives on in House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), the man who worships Kemp. Ryan’s first action after becoming Speaker was to appoint longtime pro-life advocate David Hoppe as his chief of staff. Since he took over from John Boehner, Ryan promoted pro-life until birth positions such as de-funding Planned Parenthood and banning abortions after 20 weeks. The Catholic leader of the House holds a 100-percent pro-life voting record and claims that he is “pro-life” because of “reason and science.” His proof is seeing a “seven week ultrasound for our firstborn child … in the shape of a bean.” He finished his speech while a vice-presidential candidate by saying, “Now I believe that life begins at conception…. The policy of a Romney administration will be to oppose abortions.”

Other radical of Ryan’s radical anti-abortion positions are shown in the bills that he co-sponsored or voted for in the House:

  • Allowing hospitals to deny women access to emergency abortion even if their life is in immediate danger.
  • Preventing victims of rape or incest from using Medicaid for abortion.
  • Denying women in the military to have an abortion at a military hospital except to save the woman’s life or in cases of rape or incest.
  • Declaring that a fertilized egg should have the same legal rights as a human being. (Buried in his Ryan’s failed Fetus Rights Bill, aka Sanctity of Human Life Act  HR 23, was a section allowing a rapist to sue his victim to keep her from having an abortion. With the current fixation on pro-life until birth, the rapist would probably win the case.)

None of these positions is in the Bible, and none of them has anything to do with either “reason” or “science.” It’s just the popular position pushed on people by the Republicans a few decades ago in a cynical approach to take total control of the United States. And it’s the excuse that far-right fanatics use to openly kill people if their disagree with them.

May 18, 2016

‘Religion’ Allows Escape from Contracts

Groups continue to use ‘religious liberty’ in an escape from legal obligations through denying women cost-free contraception and expelling a student from school. 

The fight over women’s contraception isn’t over, but it’s been postponed because of Antonin Scalia’s death. In their continued manic desire for power, traditional religious institutions pursued the issue of cost-free contraception for women to the Supreme Court where a non-decision was issued earlier this week. In Zubik v. Burwell the eight justices recently sent back seven cases they heard collectively in March plus another six cases that the court had not agreed to hear. Six lower courts were ordered to issue new rulings based on questions that the court left undecided.

The question in the lawsuit was whether non-church organizations have the right to be exempt from contraceptive mandates in the Affordable Care Act, as Hobby Lobby claimed—and won—in 2014.  The case wasn’t even about whether these protesting religious corporations should have to provide any contraception; they all opposed just filling out a form saying that they wouldn’t provide the contraception in order for the government to cover the cost of women’s contraception. A court suggestion for compromise is that the non-church groups’ insurance companies provide insurance without contraception and notify that employees that they will provide free contraception not subsidized by the non-church groups.

Even worse, the denial of providing contraceptives uses lay opinion rather than scientific fact because of Hobby Lobby. Among denied contraceptives are intrauterine devices and emergency contraceptive medication which simply impedes ovulation or fertilization of the egg. Basically, the groups are doing whatever they can to block women getting contraception.

With its opinion, the court let government pay for contraception and exonerate non-profits from the risk of penalties until the lower courts rule in a way that satisfies the Supreme Court. Not determined by the court’s opinion, however, are whether the Affordable Care Act contraceptive mandate violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, whether the government had a “compelling interesting” in mandating free contraceptives, and whether the method they used with the religious groups to provide cost-free contraceptives was the “least restrictive means.” In taking this inaction, the court hoped that the parties could “resolve any outstanding issues between them” but admitted that “areas of disagreement” between the two sides may continue to exist.

Five of the six lower courts had ruled in favor of the ACA mandate. A deadlock of 4-4 would have ruled that the law be interpreted differently according to the regions of these courts. Gretchen Borchelt, vice president of the National Women’s Law Center, expressed disappointment with the court’s indecision. She said, “Eight of nine circuit courts of appeals have already upheld women’s access to birth control no matter where they work.” The 8th Circuit court is the only one ruling against the accommodation that the government made to religious groups. A three-judge panel ruled  that the ACA mandate “substantially burdened” Dordt College’s free exercise of religion. In addition to Iowa, the decision covers Arkansas, Minnesota, Missouri, and both Dakotas.

Fortunately, the high court’s opinion does not set precedent, and lower courts may not solve the problem for the high court. Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg issued a separate but concurring opinion telling lower courts that the action does not endorse a proposal put forward by the protesting groups that women must have separate policies for contraceptive coverage. ACA protesters to the ACA are viewing the court’s opinion as a victory for their side, but the opinion seems to tell lower courts not to block the government from implementing its regulations to “ensure that women covered by petitioners’ health plans ‘obtain, without cost, the full range of FDA approved contraceptives,'” during the pendency of the litigation:

“Nothing in this opinion, or in the opinions or orders of the courts below, is to affect the ability of the Government to ensure that women covered by petitioners’ health plans ‘obtain, without cost, the full range of FDA approved contraceptives.'”

At this time, almost all the cases have injunctions to keep federal agencies from enforcing their regulations. The question is whether these injunctions will be lifted in light of the court’s opinion. Groups refusing to provide contraception can also find insurance plans that also refuse to provide contraception, based on that company’s “religious beliefs.”  Yet organizations may not notify the government of its insurance company, which leaves female employees without cost-free contraception. Self-insured plans also cause difficulty for women who want contraceptives because the federal government won’t know which groups insure their employees in this way. Basically, the groups want to not only refuse women contraception but also hide whether they can get this right that a federal law provides.

In another case of “religious liberty,” an appeals judge ruled that St. Thomas High School doesn’t have to obey its own contracts because it is a “religious institution. The altercation started when a teacher failed to call the parents in the evening about a grade dispute because, as he told the student, he was preparing a “romantic” night for his wedding anniversary. The parents called the teacher’s explanation sexual harassment—“inadequate, irrelevant, [and] sexually demeaning.”

The Texas school expelled the student because of its policy permitting expulsion from “actions by a parent/guardian or other person responsible for the student which upbraids, insults, threatens or abuses any teacher, administrator, coach or staff member of the school.” Parents claimed a breach of contract because the student wouldn’t educate their son, and the school claimed that the student handbook is a part of the contract allowing them to expel the student.

The case could have been a simple contract dispute, but St. Thomas argued their action came from “ecclesiastical abstention doctrine,” a First Amendment doctrine limiting the courts’ ability to decide cases involving a religious body’s “doctrines, membership, discipline, and internal affairs. The doctrine prevents the courts from even hearing a dispute in the first place, and the appeals court agreed. The court did admit that “churches, their congregations, and their hierarchies exist and function within the civil community … are amenable to rules governing civil, contract, and property rights in appropriate circumstances.”

At least one other Texas case allowed parents to use the doctrine in refusing a student because the education has a “spiritual” element, similar to accepting a church member. The difference in this case is that the dispute was a secular contract dispute, not a federal agency forcing a Catholic school to admit an unwanted student.

If religious schools are permitted to violate all their contracts because of the “ecclesiastical abstention doctrine,” they may lose credibility in their agreements with everyone. People and companies are willing to perform services and sell products to others because breaching the contracts leads to satisfaction in the courts. If, however, St. Thomas shows that religious groups do not need to fulfill any contracts, including educating students, their action may lead to lack of confidence in their institutions, reduced student membership in schools, and inability to work with vendors.

St. Thomas could probably have won their case if they had stuck to the contractual issue. Instead the school chose to use its religious status to show that they are above the law—just as the religious groups have done in Zubik v. Burwell. The question is how far religions will go—not hire women, not pay minimum wage, not fulfilling any obligations that secular groups must—before the country decides that religious groups are not totally above the law.

April 24, 2016

Conservatives Use God as Justification

About going back into politics, Marco Rubio, failed GOP presidential candidate, said, “We’ll see if God offers us another opportunity in the future.” Let’s hope that God has more sense than Rubio. Below are other lawmakers that God should turn down.

Answering the question about funding a defense for Oklahoma’s latest unconstitutional attack on women, state Rep. David Brumbaugh said that God will pay all the legal expenses as well as fixing the state’s disintegrating economy. The state has a $1.3 billion deficit. Last week, the state House passed SB1552 that revokes the license of any doctor who performs an abortion other than for women who have miscarriages or have endangered lives. If the Senate passes House amendments to the bill, which looks likely, and Gov. Mary Fallin signs the bill, which looks likely, women can’t even get a legal abortion within the first 13 weeks of pregnancy when 90 percent of these surgeries are performed. Brumbaugh compared passing this bill to the abolition of slavery, the Civil Rights Act, and the constitutional amendment giving women the right to vote.

The Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) is a place where religious conservatives go to pat themselves on the back because they are better than the rest of the people in the United States. It’s also a place where they plan to make everyone in the nation believe the same way that they do. Many of their positions will be found in The Federalist. George W. Carey explained that its readers “would agree with Clinton Rossiter that it stands with the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution among the “sacred writings of American political history.” One of these authors of “sacred writings,” Henry Scanlon, published a piece explaining how women who share his views are “incredibly attractive,” whereas the women on the left are manly. In one paragraph of his 2,000 word piece, he writes:

“The young women who attend CPAC are spectacular. No kidding: What’s up with this concentration of incredibly attractive young, conservative women? It’s noticeable and remarkable. They are beautiful and stylish in the way French women often are, which is to say in their own way, not in a conforming or predictable way. They all look like the girl the high school quarterback wants to date, and they are confident, relaxed, and smart, joking amongst themselves.”

He has an explanation for this incredible beauty: daring to read Ayn Rand makes young women “the prettiest, smartest girls” because they have an inner confidence. Scanlon’s wife told him that it’s because these women don’t act like boys which is ugly and they are willing to take fashion risks like Parisian trendsetters. In addition, Scanlon thinks that women get wrinkles from being “politically correct.” In essence, conservative women are “freer” because they don’t have to think. And of course, because God favors registered Republicans. Now we know what religious Republicans are thinking about at CPAC.

In addition to ogling young women at CPAC, Republicans are writing letters in support of former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert and asking for leniency for the recently-convicted child molester. Among 40 letters of support for Hastert is one from Rep. Tom DeLay, the former House majority whip who helped make Hastert the speaker and wrote that he is a man of “strong faith” and “great integrity.” DeLay wrote:

“We all have our flaws, but Dennis Hastert has very few. He doesn’t deserve what he is going through. I ask that you consider the man that is before you and give him leniency where you can.”

Dennis HastertWhile part of the movement to impeach President Bill Clinton over an extramarital affair between consenting adults, Hastert covered up Rep. Mark Foley’s inappropriate relationships with young Congressional male pages. Legislators in southern states are in a panic about molesters in their women’s bathrooms. Lawmakers, here’s what a child molester looks like. The sentencing for the man who was two heartbeats away from the presidency for eight years is this coming Wednesday. It is not for his molesting children but instead for a financial crime. (More about Hastert here.)

Many fundamentalist Christians, finding Donald Trump too liberal, are turning toward Ted Cruz as a presidential candidate in November. Their question now is whether he’s the kind of fundamentalist that they want. Cruz’ father, foreign policy adviser Jerry Boykin, PAC leader David Barton—and possibly Cruz himself—are “Seven Mountains Dominionists” who want to take over seven cultures: family, religion, education, media, entertainment, business, and government. Those who say that Cruz is just a “constitutionalist” see Dominionism as an “elastic” concept and avoid talking about the Dominionist influence on Cruz.

Every year since 1952, the President of the United States has been forced to sign a proclamation declaring the observation of the National Day of Prayer despite the 7th Circuit Court ruling that Congress’s law is unconstitutional. Alabama state Rep. Mack Butler wants to push religion into government ever farther with his proposal of a resolution demanding that the United States become a Christian nation banning abortion and returning to “traditional values.” His proposal follows the first “whereas” that “God has blessed America, where freedom exists for all, regardless of belief or creed.”

God wanted Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to make a fortune off securities fraud, according to the man who’s charged with an alleged kickback deal in which he persuaded people to invest in a company. After his friends put $840,000 in Servergy, Inc., Paxton, who failed to tell them his connection to the company, got 100,000 shares of stock. Paxton claims that the shares were a gift from Servergy’s CEO, William Mapp, because Mapp told him the shares were a gift while they were eating at a Dairy Queen.

Texas has many links to Christianity. The state Board of Education has managed to insert fundamentalist Christianity into the textbooks that then infiltrate the United States, and the Board’s new leader doesn’t believe in science. The woman assigned to head the state’s Board of Education is a home schooler who doesn’t believe in science. Mary Lou Bruner, a woman running for the Board of Education, thinks that the Middle East is forcing Islam content into the textbooks by buying the books. She also has some other bizarre claims, including her accusation that President Obama is a gay prostitute. With a Masters of Education degree from East Texas State University, Bruner has worked as a teacher and counselor in Texas public schools for 36 years. Last November, the board approved about 90 social studies textbooks deemed inaccurate, biased, and politicized.

Almost a year ago, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott vetoed a mental health bill on advice from Scientology lobbying. SB 359 would permit hospitals to detail potentially dangerous for several hours in order that they be evaluated. Scientology does not believe in mental illness and purports that the 9/11 attacks were spearheaded by Osama Bin Laden’s psychiatrist.

While engaged in child molesting, other crimes, demolition of the economy, sexism, and falsehoods through their attempts to put fundamentalist Christians into a secular government, Republicans move forward in their attempts to destroy women’s lives. South Dakota plans to be the third state after Arizona and Arkansas that forces doctors to lie about the pseudoscience that a pill will reverse abortions in progress. The theory is based on a physician’s anecdotal case report who tested something on about six patients who said they regretted swallowing the abortion pill. Dr. Daniel Grossman, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of California, San Francisco, said that doctors offering to undo medical abortions are “essentially testing an unproven, experimental protocol on pregnant women.” Now legislators with no medical training are forcing doctors to do just that in at least three states.

Cecile Richards, director of Planned Parenthood, said, “A woman voting for Ted Cruz is like a chicken voting for Colonel Sanders.” I would say that her statement holds true for the vast majority of Republicans now running for office.

April 17, 2016

Christian Arrogance

As the number of Christians in the United States shrinks, those remaining seem to become more and more arrogant about their superiority. They fail to understand that “freedom” means that not everyone has to agree with their beliefs as in the U.S. Constitution that separates church and state into the First Amendment.

our god is biggerBrittany Taylor has decided that Troup Independent School District (TX), supported by taxpayer funding, should provide Bible verses in its website. Enraged when a verse was removed, she made T-shirts for students reading “my God is bigger than your God.” The verse read, “As Goliath moved closer to attack, David quickly ran out to meet him.” Her recourse was to make T-shirts for students that read “Our God is bigger,” making a childish argument that “my God is bigger than your God.” The website kept the meaning of the verse:

“As the giant moved closer to attack, David quickly ran out to meet him. In Troup ISD we work to engender the spirit of attacking the problems that present themselves day in and day out. Teaching the students to run to meet the giants in their lives is a goal we fully embrace. Welcome to the Troup ISD web site. We trust that you will be able to find everything you are looking for and remember, you are always welcome at Troup ISD.”

GOP presidential candidate John Kasich followed the same pattern of Christian religious arrogance in his recent campaign trying to win over the hearts and votes of New Yorkers. Meeting haredi Orthodox Jews, students  of the Talmud, in a Jewish bookstore, he decided to school them about the meaning of the text that they study. Kasich asked, “They sold [Joseph] into slavery, and that’s how the Jews got to Egypt. Right? Did you know that?”

During another campaign stop at a Brooklyn yeshiva, he argued with Torah scholars about whether Abraham or Moses is more important to the Jewish people. Kasich disagreed with their position and said, “What are you talking about? Get outta here! The story of the people are Abraham—when God made a covenant with Abraham, not Moses.”

At the Shmurah Matzoh Bakery, Kasich also expounded:

“You know who I like? I like Joseph. And I like—you know who Joseph is? I like Joshua. You like Joshua? How about Elijah? You like him? He had a tough time there. He said ‘why am I having such a tough time,’ and you know what God told him? ‘There are a lot of people having tougher times than you.’ Why do I like Jacob? Well, because I think he was a pretty good guy. You don’t read about many of his flaws.”

Not satisfied with making a fool of himself already, he explained the parallels between Christianity and Judaism in the blood of the lamb that protected Jews from the plague in Egypt and “Jesus Christ, [who] is known as the Lamb of God … that saves all of us.”

Uriel Heilman of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency asked that Kasich abstain from giving Christian Bible lessons to Jewish voters:

“Talking about Christ’s blood during a visit to Borough Park? Oy vey. Please, somebody, prep this guy Hasidic Jews in Brooklyn want to hear about food stamps, affordable housing, Medicaid. Ix-nay on the Jesus-nay.”

The most recent blatant projection of religious arrogance, however, comes from Dennis Hastert, U.S. House Speaker for eight terms. His strong religious belief is demonstrated by his undergraduate college experience at Wheaton College, a school that bans “homosexual behavior” and accepts “conversion therapy,” even a half-century after Hastert graduated. As Speaker, Hastert assured the Christian Coalition that he would lead the GOP drive to pass a federal marriage amendment that would enshrine marriage between a man and woman in the U.S. Constitution. He also added increased funding for abstinence sex education, saying, “More kids need to be taught to just say no, that doesn’t just apply to drugs, it also applies to sex before marriage.” Before Hastert spent 20 years in Congress, he was known as a “pillar of the community” where he was a high school wrestling coach.

Hastert was chosen as Speaker when the GOP needed someone sexually squeaky clean while they impeached Bill Clinton for adultery. Newt Gingrich was outed from Speaker as a serial adulterer—the problem that the GOP used for the impeachment—and proposed Speaker Bob Livingston resigned after his own adultery was exposed. Hastert lived the “family values” lifestyle—or so the GOP thought.

In the 1990s, John Diluloi, who became George W. Bush’s first director of the Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives, created the myth that young black men were “super-predators.” At that time, Hastert leaped on the bandwagon to extend the myth to sexual predatory gays who would destroy “traditional” marriage. Shortly before he became a representative, he said, “We must continue to be proactive warding off pedophiles and other creeps who want to take advantage of our children.” Hastert kept a file in his office on “Homosexuals” including smearing gay men with the sexual predator stamp. The file contained policy statements from conservative groups such as the Traditional Values Coalition and the Family Research Council that has worked to promote discrimination against LGBT people. One piece described teens supposedly lured into sex by adult gay men.

In 2003, Dennis Hastert, while Speaker of the House, said that “it is equally important to stop those predators before they strike, to put repeat child molesters into jail for the rest of their lives.” If Hastert had succeeded with his wish, he would be going to prison for the rest of his life. This year, Dennis Hastert was revealed as a “super-predator,” molesting at least four boys including one who was 14 and another who took his own life. Hastert also put a La-Z-Boy chair outside the locker room showers at Yorkville High School so he could watch young boys “horseplay,” according to Conan O’Brien sidekick Andy Richter, who attended Yorkville High School in the 1980s. The coach claimed that it was to keep the boys from fighting.

Hastert may spend six months in prison for obstructing an FBI/IRS investigation into illegal bank withdrawals–but not for sexually molesting male minor children. The statute of limitations in Illinois for his sexual behavior is only three years so he goes free on any of these charges.

Through his lawyer, Hastert has apologized for “misconduct” and “harm.” The lawyer’s spin is that the 74-year-old man, longest serving Speaker of the U.S. House, has been punished enough because he is “humiliated.” Hastert’s attorneys are seeking a sentence of probation without prison time. Hastert claims that he doesn’t remember what happened and “deeply regrets that the episode occurred.” His defense team contends that Hastert merely “brushed” the genitals of a student in 1974 which might not constitute sexual misconduct. Despite Hastert’s bad memory, he paid $3.5 million to the ex-student from money he got from “interesting” real estate deals. And also despite Hastert’s bad memory, the team wants a reduction in sentencing because their client has accepted responsibility for his misdeeds.

Hastert’s sentencing on April 27 may not go well for him: a judge stated that the former Speaker’s false statements made to investigators last year about the sexual molestation will be used as a factor because the conduct is only a year old. Hastert calls his victim an “extortionist” which also doesn’t sit well with the judge. The recommended sentence for Hastert’s offense is six months or less, but it carries a maximum of five years in prison. He admitted guilt last October as part of  plea bargain to avoid publicity, but the accusations have gone viral because of his denials. One of the victims and the sister of another who committed suicide may testify at the sentencing hearing.

Hastert is a religious man; he will surely hope that his apologies will get him off. If not that, then pity for his health and age—and the fact that he’s an important white man. This is an example of a political leader who wants everyone in the nation to follow his Christian religion.

March 27, 2016

Authoritarian Christianity Not Healthy or Safe

If your only hospital is Catholic—good luck! Between the Republicans and the Church making the rules about women’s health, women are in danger if anything goes wrong with their pregnancies. In Michigan, for example, at least five women risked death in just 17 months because they could not obtain immediate and appropriate health care after life-threatening miscarriages.

The U.S. bishops’ directive allows medical care if the mother’s life is in danger, but Mercy Health Partners (Muskegon) doctors determined they would wait until sepsis—an advanced infection—or no fetal heart beat. For one woman, it was sepsis as her temperature climbed for eight hours. Doctors didn’t even give these five women, none of them more than 20 weeks pregnant, the option of going to another hospital where they might have received appropriate health care. Mercy Health Partners is the only provider of emergency care in the entire county after a 2008 merger gave control of the county’s secular hospitals to Trinity Health, among the largest healthcare systems in the country.

Marie Hilliard, director of public policy for the National Catholic Bioethics Center, pointed out that the directives make an exception to protect a woman’s health even if the fetus dies. Hospitals ignore this exception. Hospitals claim that they will induce labor if “the mother’s life is in jeopardy,” but there are no clear standards for determining this situation.

At least 10 percent of the hospitals in the U.S. are Catholic, following the same inadequate health care directions for women. The number of Catholic hospitals increased 16% between 2010 and 2011 and is still growing. At the same time, the numbers of public, secular and other religious hospitals all dropped. One out of every nine hospital beds in the US is located in facilities that follow Catholic teachings, and in far more than 30 communities, the only local hospital is a Catholic one.

One of the five women at the Muskegon hospital was prescribed Tylenol for a potentially deadly infection and sent home—twice—where she miscarried by herself on the toilet. Another woman spent three days in the hospital and required additional surgery.  One woman even reported seeing a fetal limb in her toilet but was forced to wait 18 hours.

Former Muskegon County health official, Faith Groesbeck, talked to the hospital about these concerns. After her concerns were ignored, she reported Mercy Health Partners to a division of Health and Human Services, accusing the company of violating the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act, a 1986 act of Congress requiring hospitals to provide any patient experiencing an emergency with “stabilizing treatment.” She stated that Mercy Health Partners made unilateral healthcare choices for the five women without their knowledge or their consent. Since blowing the whistle on the hospital, Groesbeck has been transferred from the county initiative to reduce and fetal mortality and transferred to deal with substance abuse prevention.

All the women had had the membranes surrounding the fetus rupture too early, always leading to a miscarriage if it happens before the fetus is viable. When the woman develops an infection, most doctors “absolutely urge” the woman to have delivery induced. All women showed infections, but the doctors either didn’t warn the women or, in the case of one of them, refused immediate delivery.

A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit against the hospital because federal courts in Michigan lack control over the bishops’ mandates. ACLU appealed the dismissal to the 6th Circuit Court in July 2015.

Michigan lawmakers, known for allowing the governor’s administration to poison the state’s water, want to join Catholic bishops in giving orders to doctors. Introduced legislation would ban dilation and evacuation (D&E), the surgical approach to abortion in the second trimester of pregnancy. Women would then be forced to endure painful, expensive, risky labor, fraught with health problems, in order to abort fetuses that are likely to die.

In her protest against this bill, an OB/GYN described the situation of a pregnant woman with life-threatening high blood pressure who was carrying a fetus with a serious heart defect. The D&E allowed her to preserve her fertility. Another patient whose water broke at 18 weeks had had four prior cesarean sections; labor induction was life-threatening for her. Without a D&E, her four children may have been motherless. Other patients had a molar pregnancy, heart failure, kidney failure, uterine or blood infections, and disorders leading to hemorrhage in labor.

The United States is the only developed nation where the maternal death rate has increased: between 1990 and 2013, the maternal mortality ratio rose 136 percent. At the same time, safe abortions have radically decreased as Christian religious beliefs  led to closing hundreds of women’s clinics through GOP-controlled states.

As fundamentalist Christians and Republicans continue to push their personal beliefs on the people of the United States through punitive laws, Christian faith continues to decrease in the nation. In 2014 the percentage of Christian-identified population dropped to 70.6 percent from 78.4 percent just seven years earlier. Thirty percent of millennials don’t support any religion. People like presidential candidate Ted Cruz blame an assault on Christianity, and 17 states introduced “religious freedom” laws this year, laws which negatively affect health care and personal safety. Christian sects promote wife-beating and doctors’ rejection of patients who don’t match personal beliefs.

This self-perception of danger directed toward Christianity comes from its history of martyrdom, but a reason for the decline is the religion’s nonsensical dogmas. Saying “Happy Holiday” doesn’t represent a “War on Christmas”—a cultural holiday taken from pagan rituals on a date when the prophet Jesus wasn’t born.

The Christian martyrdom is far more prevalent with whites: 61 percent of white evangelicals believe that their religious liberty is threatened compared to only 37 percent of non-white Christians. As whites lose the culture war, many grasp the straw of religious liberty and attempt to use it as a battering ram against people of color. This loss has led 77 percent of U.S. evangelicals to believe that they are living in the End Times. They may express themselves in hate, but they are motivated by fear of secularization.

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) gained international fame by persuading 46 Senate colleagues to sign a treasonous letter to Iran saying that the United States might not live up to its agreement. He’s back with a bill to give Christians special visas to enter the United States while banning Syrian refugees of other faiths. Most of the others who seek “religious liberty,” however, don’t mention Christians although their rhetoric is obvious. For example, Cruz ranted:

“There is a war on faith in America today, in our lifetime. Did we ever imagine that in the land of the free and home of the brave, we would be witnessing our government persecute its citizens for their faith?”

Cruz followed that up with recommending that people declare their freedom from the law if the law doesn’t allow “religious freedom.” Yet Cruz declared war on Muslims by comparing them Muslims to criminal gangs and wanting police to “patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods.” He claims that it’s part of the GOP willingness to fight “political correctness.” His strategy is to make people afraid and then capitalize on their fear. With Donald Trump he is a classic example of what Stanley Feldman calls “the classic authoritarian leadership style: simple, powerful, and punitive.” A recent poll shows that over 40 percent of likely voters score “very high” or “high” in authoritarianism.

One place where this “Christian” fear has been manifested is in Bullard Elementary School (Kennesaw, GA). To reduce stress among students, administrators instituted the “mindfulness” of yoga and other practices. Because of parental objections, the school eliminated practices such as the Sanskrit greeting “namaste,” placing hands “to heart center,” and coloring pages with the symbol of the mandala. One mother complained about the school “pushing ideology on our students,” and another parent called this “scary.” Parents are pushing fear of “mindfulness indoctrination.”

Cheryl Crawford explained that the purpose is to help the students be “aware of their breath patterns, their tendencies and habits.” She added that focusing inwardly “helps them if they’re very worried.” Crawford explained that “namaste” is a word like “hello,” that the goodness in me sees the goodness in you.” Yoga’s myriad health benefits also include reducing chronic back pain, improving mobility, and relieving symptoms of anxiety and depression—something that doesn’t come from fundamental Christianity.

Evidently authoritarian Christians have entered a new battleground—the War on Mindfulness.

March 13, 2016

Christianity – Good, Bad, Ugly

 

Good:

After over seven years in office, President Obama has decided not to include abstinence-only education programs in his budget. Ronald Reagan began in 1981 to fund these programs that are proved to be failures, and funding “grew exponentially” between 1996 and 2006. In 25 years, taxpayers have been forced to pay over $1.5 billion for these failed programs. One survey showed the doubling of participants in one type of this program who would “probably” have sex during high school. Teen pregnancy has steadily declined in states that require comprehensive-sex education while teen pregnancy in states where abstinence-only sex education is allowed and even mandated stays high.

States with the highest rate of teen pregnancies are New Mexico, Mississippi, Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma—places that mandate sex-education programs stress abstinence and “the importance of sex only during marriage.”New Hampshire, Vermont, Minnesota, Massachusetts, and Maine had the lowest numbers of teen pregnancies in the nation during the same time. Teen pregnancy costs the U.S. about $9.4 billion in 2010.

Unlike the Boy Scouts, the Girl Scouts have long refused to engage in bigotry, a policy that occasionally makes them the target of conservative religious groups. The most recent event comes from a Missouri Catholic archdiocese when St. Louis Archbishop Robert Carlson urged priests to sever all ties with Girl Scout troops, accusing them of “exhibiting a troubling pattern of behavior.” A week later the Girl Scouts of Eastern Missouri had raised a record amount of money at its annual fundraiser—over $350,000. In addition, increased sales of Girl Scout cookies has caused shortages, and  several local businesses offered to host cookie booths in their lobbies.

In a possible lessening of Catholic anti-contraception position, Pope Francis said that its use in avoiding infecting fetuses with the Zika virus is better than abortions. He said, “Avoiding pregnancy is not an absolute evil.” For example, Pope Paul VI permitted African raped nuns to use contraception. The Catholic church’s position on preventing contraception does not hold up in Latin America: 88 percent of Mexicans, 91 percent of Colombians, and 93 percent of Brazilians support the use of contraceptives. Francis also said that Catholic lawmakers are free to vote for same-sex marriage and civil unions in opposition to Pope Benedict XVI’s document in 2003 when he was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger that explicitly forbid Catholic legislators from voting for same-sex marriage or unions.

Bad:

Good news, bad news. Idaho is getting rid of a law mandating daily Bible readings in schools while allowing Bibles to be used in school classes—including science.

The Rev. Dwight C. Jones, mayor of Richmond (VA), thinks that the First Amendment protects him as he hires people from his church to do volunteer work for the church while being paid by the state’s capital city. Over ten percent of Richmond’s executive-level positions were filled by members of Jones’ church, First Baptist of South Richmond. Head of public works for Richmond, Emmanuel Adediran, was discovered supervising renovation work for First Baptist while on his city’s job. Two contractors also listed Richmond city offices as the billing address for estimates on kitchen equipment for the church. One employee has already been fired, but more are in the pipeline. Jones is asking for respect “for the wall of separation between church and state.”

Many Christians who fear Sharia Law in the U.S. support Christian Law. GOP presidential candidate Ted Cruz is one of those according to his wife, Heidi. She claims that her husband is the only one able to provide a “combination of the law and religion.” According to Heidi Cruz, “the God of Christianity is the God of freedom, of individual liberty, of choice and of consequence.” She also calls Christians “loving” and  “nonjudgmental”–the same ones who want to take away rights from people. Cruz is running on a platform that rights in the United States come from God and talks about “Christianity under attack.” He openly supports torture, carpet bombing, distribution of water in Flint only to anti-abortion religious centers, and has connections to which supremacy groups.

GOP presidential candidate John Kasich, who claims to be “small government,” goes beyond pushing Christianity through the United States. He wants an agency to make Christians out of everyone in the world. His proposed tax-payer funded agency would “beam messages around the world about what it means to have a western ethic, to be part of a Judeo-Christian society.” In many ways, Kasich is as dangerous as his GOP competition, but the media gives him as pass as a “moderate Republican.”

Ugly:

God has declared that domestic violence abusers should have the “freedom” to “open carry” guns in order to protect themselves, according to Rep. Jeff Coody in his defense of an Oklahoma bill that passed the House by a large majority. When Rep. Mike Brown asked if the government had a responsibility to protect other people, Coody said, “No.” Since the state passed a concealed carry law, it is at a 10-year high for rapes. This bill also removes any requirement for permits or training before people can buy guns. “If we give people some freedom, people tend to use that responsibly,” Coody said.

Proving that “religious liberty” is only for Christians, Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) is furious that President Obama has blocked the sale of a San Carlos Apache sacred site to foreign-owned Resolution Copper. He justifies his actions by alleging that the place has never been sacred, despite testimony from Scientists for the Society for American Archaeology the site has been used for religious purposes since “well before recorded history.” The area had been closed to mining since then-President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s recognition of the sacred land in 1955. Tribe members have occupied the site since it was sold out to the mining company according to a provision in last year’s National Defense Authorization Act. The sale would mark the first time in history that Native American land would be handed over to foreign interests by Congress.

Just when people thought that the Catholic Church might try to stop child sexual abuse, the church has delivered a different message. The guidelines for training newly ordained bishops state:

“According to the state of civil laws of each country where reporting is obligatory, it is not necessarily the duty of the bishop to report suspects to authorities, the police or state prosecutors in the moment when they are made aware of crimes or sinful deeds.”

This directive ignores the pope’s statement that “everything possible must be done to rid the church of the scourge of the sexual abuse.”

Girls-are-like-apples-on-trees

In addition, just plain creepy weird:

“Girls are like apples on trees. Their fathers are the farmers, whose job is to care for them. He must protect his apples from pests and disease. He must guard them against thieves who may pick his apples prematurely. Neither those at the top nor those at the bottom can help their location. But, when each reaches peak ripeness, it is the farmer’s job to harvest that fruit and give it to whom he will, to those in need. So there is nothing wrong with the apples still on the tree and nothing wrong with the boys who seek them. But it is the farmer’s duty to provide for both, in due season.”

That comes from Vaughn Ohlman, who thinks that Christian youth aren’t marrying early enough because fathers are too selective about which “boys” they give their “girls” to in marriage. According to Suzanne Titkemeyer, Ohlman is upset because he wanted a girl in his church and the father wouldn’t “give” her to Ohlman.

Mass shootings have increased within the past few weeks across the nation, but the GOP refuses to take any actions for prevention.  Their solution is prayer. Several months ago, the president said, “[T]houghts and prayers are not enough…. It does … nothing to prevent this carnage from being inflicted someplace else in America, next week or a couple of months from now.” House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) responded, “When you are praying, you are doing something about it. You are revealing the presence of God….  That is why prayer should always come first.” No comment on what should come next. For Christian Republicans, solutions are denial and prayer while giving all the resources in the nation to the wealthiest people. This would be worsen under a fundamentalist Christian president.

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