Nel's New Day

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.

July 19, 2015

Religion + Politics = Discrimination

Republicans still reeling from Supreme Court decisions delivered at the end of their session and the showdown over the Confederate flag are working on responses. Because it is unlikely that they can add an amendment to the constitution that would ban marriage equality, they plan to make life as miserable as possible for same-sex couples as possible, using “religious freedom” as their excuse. Bills to grant protections for objections to marriage equality on moral grounds drafted by Rep. Raúl R. Labrador (R-ID) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT)  already have 130 sponsors, and House conservatives demanded a vote.

At the same time, other Republicans are searching for ways to expand legal protections for LGBT people. Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA) has prepared an amendment to limit the inflammatory language from Labrador and Lee plus adding enhanced nondiscrimination protections for LGBT people. His concern echoes those of others that the anti-LGBT bill may “see the Indiana debacle turn into a national nightmare.” The amendment would include workplace and housing nondiscrimination language to protect LGBT individuals from losing their jobs or being denied a home because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Some conservatives in Congress understand that reelection depends on not alienating every constituent except the white man while more extremists go for the throat in every situation. Colby Itkowitz shows the reason behind congressional gridlock in this contrast between Dent and his GOP colleague Rep. Jim Jordan from Ohio.

Asked about whether the House will be having a debate about religious freedom in August, Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said, “No decision has been made on—on how best to address these.” In other words, Boehner once again has no idea what to do about his caucus. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is responsible for formally drafting the bill, but it is busy attempt to skewer presidential candidate Hillary Clinton over Benghazi and emails. In the meantime, Labrador said that he isn’t going to give LGBT people legal protections.

The GOP worries that they need to have “religious freedom” laws as legal protection is necessary to keep federal licenses for discriminatory religious broadcasters, federal grants and tax-exempt status for faith-based charities, and funding for Catholic schools. In the past 30 years, very few organizations have lost their tax-exempt status, mainly because of fraud. No one has ever threatened religious organizations that refuse to hire women.

At the same time, the proposed bills have such loose language that “Christians” could fire single women for being pregnant. H.R. 2802, the misnamed First Amendment Defense Act, stops government action against a person—which, of course, includes for-profit corporations—acting from a religious belief that favors their description of traditional marriage. Businesses can discriminate and keep their federal contracts because the bill includes protections for people who believe marriage is between “one man and one woman” and “sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage.” Labrador and Lee, along with their co-sponsors, believe that single mothers can also legally be targets of discrimination.

This concern isn’t in the realm of fantasy: religious schools have fired unwed teachers for being pregnant, even if they weren’t part of the ministerial exception that the Supreme Court blessed. Labrador wants to legalize bigotry because the bill is “just allowing people to continue to believe the way they do.” Lee agreed by supporting the idea that an unmarried woman could be fired from a university for having sex out of wedlock, even if that university receives money from taxpayers.

The politics of the bill are complex because Labrador, co-founder of the extremist conservative Freedom Caucus, has wanted the job of Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), who controls the floor schedule. When some Tea Party members in the House have gotten out of line, they have seen their legislation blocked as well as temporarily losing their committee positions. The religious freedom act will most likely take a back seat to discussions about whether to declare war on Iran in the next eight weeks, especially because Congress will be in recess over half that time.

Recently, the International Olympic Committee approved Proposal 14 of the Olympic Agenda, keeping the games out of countries with anti-LGBT laws, a ruling that could eliminate the United States from the Olympics if the “religious freedom” bill were to pass. Or from states such as Indiana that have discriminatory laws allowing some areas to deny service to LGBT people, even after the uproar about a discrimination bill. Eighteen other states have laws legalizing discrimination: Florida in preventing same-sex couples form adopting children, Texas in evicting same-sex couples from lodging, etc. The Olympics may prefer London over Louisiana where patriots with Confederate flags can protest a gay swimmer from another country. The heading of the map below shows the level of discrimination in different states based on religious beliefs.

map religious freedom

The far-right population has gotten even crazier since the Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality. For example, Truenews host Rick Wiles has a theory about why the justices voted to allow same-sex couples to marry:

“Perhaps [Justice] Kennedy and many of those who are on the Supreme Court have had sodomite relations themselves.”

Wiles concluded that they were being blackmailed by their same-sex lovers from fear of being exposed. Before the decision, Wiles had promised to renounce his U.S. citizenship if the Supreme Court accepted same-sex marriage. There is no evidence that he followed through.

The Louisiana Supreme Court did determine in Costanza v. Caldwell that the state has to allow same-sex marriage, but they didn’t like doing it. Justice Jeannette Theriot Knoll wrote about the “horrific impact these five lawyers have made on the democratic rights of the American people,” and Justice John Weimer said that it is not a judge’s job to “point out what, in my view, the law should be.” One judge even dissented, claiming that he is convinced by the falsehood same-sex adoption leads to pedophilia.

Kansas’ Republican governor, Sam Brownback, issued an executive order prohibiting state government from taking action against clergy or religious organizations denying services to couples based on religious beliefs. His order is so far-reaching that a homeless shelter that receives taxpayer funding could refuse housing to a same-sex couple with a child or a foster care agency could refuse to place a child with a family member in a same-sex relationship. Because “religious organization” lacks definition, businesses could use the order to deny people service.

After the Supreme Court legalization of marriage equality, presidential candidate Rick Santorum repeated his argument that homosexuality is like “man on dog.” The last time he made this declaration, he paid dearly when Dan Savage used a specific sex act as another definition for Santorum.

Glencoe (AL) mayor, Charles Gilchrist, cried Christian persecution because he was asked to follow the constitution by taking down the Christian flag next to the U.S. stars and bars. The city attorney warned Gilchrist that a lawsuit could cost the town more than $500,000, as another town had to do. The Christian flag is being used as a revolution against marriage equality. An anti-LGBT pastor in North Carolina, Rit Varriale, called on churches to raise the Christian flag above the U.S. one, a violation of the U.S. Flag Code. He wanted this done “as a demonstration that Christians will respect and obey the federal government up to the point that the government asks something that is inconsistent with what God has called His people to do.”

My favorite Christian story of the week comes from Queen Creek (AZ) where a woman was upset by the “devilish” cake from Costco. The design for  her six-year-old’s birthday cake from a picture, but she was “extremely shocked and upset to see a demonic symbol written clear as a day” on the cake.

 

cake good

To Jessica Eckerdt, the cute little dinosaur had only three legs, 666 was written on the icing, and images of the devil were spread across the bottom of the design. Plus she bought the cake in Superstition Springs, and Costco has 666 stores. (They really have 672.) Now little kids can no longer get dinosaur cakes from Costco. (The story is almost two years old, but it’s too good to miss.)

July 2, 2015

Jindal Joyfully Joins ‘Party of Stupid’

tannedBobby Jindal was lucky that he received little media attention last week when he announced his candidacy for GOP president. One reason is his ridiculous campaign slogan: “Tanned. Rested. Ready.” It first appeared in 1968 from Richard Nixon, the former president who had to resign. Posters with images of Nixon and the slogan continued to appear. It’s never a good idea to copy someone else, and it’s even worse when that person was driven from the highest office in the United States, the one that Jindal wants.

portraitAnother problem is that “tan” implies Jindal is trying to avoid his Indian-American background. Many Indian-Americans in the U.S. are upset with Jindal because he depicts himself as separate from them. Even his official portrait in the Louisiana capitol depicts Jindal as very white. [Guess which one is the real Bobby Jindal!]

Jindal was born in the United States four months after his parents arrived. His name is Piyush, but he wanted to be called Bobby after one of The Brady Bunch. As a teen, he converted from Hinduism to Catholicism at Brown University. He and his wife are very clear about not observing Indian traditions, and he declared he wants to be known as just an “American.”

After he lost his gubernatorial run in 2003, he cultivated a group called “Bubbas for Bobby” for his successful run in 2007. He wore cowboy books, got a hunting license, and sent out a Christmas card with himself, his wife, and his three kids in camouflage. A long-time family friend, Sumir Chehl, was asked to wear Western dress for his 2008 inauguration because that’s what the governor’s political advisers wanted. Jindal has even drawn away from Indian-American donors and failed to attend a rally for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at Madison Square Garden. The crowd booed at Jindal’s name.

Lamar White wrote that Jindal is “rested” because he never shows up to his job.

“He’s spent nearly half of the last two years outside of Louisiana. John Kennedy, the Republican state treasurer, claims that he hasn’t had a substantive conversation with Jindal since he was first elected, which seems almost negligent when one considers the shape of the state’s finances. Through his state campaign fund, Jindal has spent nearly $4 million with OnMessage, a D.C.-based political consultancy, and perhaps as a result, his name has appeared in the byline of more national editorials than any other presidential candidate. He’s been everywhere but where he was supposed to be.”

Bobby Jindal big smileAt this time, Jindal’s biggest claim to fame is his executive order to “protect” Christians from LGBT people through “religious freedom” after the legislature didn’t  pass this into law. In an op-ed, Jindal wrote his intent to fight “discrimination against Christian individuals and businesses.” No other religions need apply.  Jindal issued the order after he roundly criticized President Obama for his lawful use of executive orders.

After the Supreme Court legalized marriage equality in all 50 states, Jindal told his legal counsel to draft a memo stating that his executive order shields government employees from issuing a marriage license to same-sex couples or officiating at same-sex couples’ weddings. Lawsuits and a ruling from a lower court may have forced him to order the issuance of licenses.

Protesting marriage equality Jindal fought to keep mixed-race marriages in the state because of the law. In 2009, Keith Bardwell, JP for Tangipahoa Parish, refused to issue marriage licenses to interracial couples because of his belief that these marriages don’t last. He asked everyone who called him if they were a mixed-race couple. If they said yes, he told them he wouldn’t marry them. Although Bardwell referred these couples to other JPs, Jindal declared his action “a clear violation of constitutional rights and federal and state law.” Six years later, Jindal stated that people in government have the right to follow their personal beliefs in deciding whether to do their jobs.

While other candidates smoked marijuana while they in college, Jindal participated in an exorcism. At Oxford University, he wrote about a close friend, “Susan,” who started having visions and smelling like sulfur—which Jindal noted “supposedly accompanies the devil.” In the midst of a seizure during a prayer group, Susan said, “Bobby, you cannot even love Susan.” The students chanted, “Satan, I command you to leave this woman” and exhorted all “demons to leave in the name of Christ.” Jindal reported that he had shortness of breath and decided to leave the demon alone “to find peace for myself.”

Jindal does have an alternative to the Affordable Care Act. It would give states full control over Medicaid and pool people at a high risk of illness, offering them subsidies. It would also get rid of the business tax break for offering employees health insurance. Unfortunately for Jindal, it’s very expensive, and Ramesh Ponnuru wrote  for National Review that the plan might be too disruptive to the existing system.

He also believes in both the market and cutting government services. Becoming Louisiana’s Secretary of Health and Hospitals at the age of 24, Jindal closed clinics, dropped wages for nurses and tried to gut the Medically Needy Program and restrict Medicaid recipients to five prescriptions per month. Louisiana has one of the highest uninsured rates in the country.

As governor, Jindal inherited over $800 million in budget surplus and ran up a $1.6 billion deficit while creating $800 million in tax cuts and destroying the tax code. The billions of dollars in tax subsidies for business forced him to raid rainy day funds and savings accounts, sell public assets, and treat one-time credits as annual revenues. He ranted against “corporate welfare” while rolling back corporate giveaways to forced corporations such as IBM to accept his discrimination against LGBT people. Louisiana loses $300,000 every time the A&E show Duck Dynasty films an episode, and the state gave an oil refiner $10 million to create 43 jobs. Jindal hated the Obama stimulus money but he quietly took them.

When Jindal tried to fund private schools with funding for public education, the state supreme court called a halt to his unconstitutional action, especially after he promoted the teaching of creationism. He is hostile to women’s reproductive rights, protects his office from open-record laws, and allows his wife’s charity to pocket millions from corporations negotiating with the state.

Jindalthreatened to cut 82 percent in funding for higher education, the highest cut ever seen in the nation. Louisiana is 49th in college attainment with only 29 percent of adults with degrees. Between 2008 and 2014, the state’s per-student state allocations dropped by 43 percent, exceeded only by Arizona.

Once calling the GOP “the party of stupid,” Jindal has wholeheartedly joined them to get his foot into the presidential primaries. In England, he claimed that the Muslims had created “no-go” zones which the English knows don’t exist. He used his position as Louisiana governor to sign the Senate’s letter to Iran claiming that any agreement between the countries could be easily invalidated by another president. Through all this, Jindal has a 28-percent approval rate as a governor, the lowest in every state, and he’s polling at 1 percent in Iowa.

Governor Bobby Jindal (R-LA) and potential 2016 GOP candidate attends APPs State luncheon discussion on Common Core at the Mayflower Hotel on February 5, 2015 in Washington, DC. Photo by Olivier Douliery/Sipa USA

Governor Bobby Jindal (R-LA) and potential 2016 GOP candidate attends APPs State luncheon discussion on Common Core at the Mayflower Hotel on February 5, 2015 in Washington, DC. Photo by Olivier Douliery/Sipa USA

Other Louisiana problems from Jindal:

The largest gender pay gap in the country with women paid $.66 for each man’s $1.00.

The second-highest rate of gun deaths in the nation.

The highest rate of incarceration in the nation with two-thirds of the prisoners doing time for a drug crime or other non-violent offense. Last year, Jindal vetoed a bipartisan measure to make more inmates eligible for parole and directed the money saved from their early release to fund rehabilitation programs.

Second-highest rate of gonorrhea, third-highest rate of syphilis, and fourth-highest rate of chlamydia after Jindal blocked funds for STD prevention and Planned Parenthood.

The fifth-highest rate of teen pregnancy with a law barring anyone connected with Planned Parenthood teaching about sexual health of family planning.

A creepy part of Jindal’s declaration for candidacy was his pre-announcement announcement as he sat in the yard with his family and asked his children if they wanted to go to Iowa. In a video for the entire world, Jindal told the kids that he’s going to do something special but they can’t tell their friends. “This is our secret. Don’t let anyone know.”

This would be life under President Jindal.

April 26, 2015

Conservatives’ Need for Feelings of Superiority

GOP presidential candidates blame hatred against Christians because the government is trying to provide equality for all. Some of this paranoia is coming to head on Tuesday when the U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear a case about marriage equality.

The basis for conservative arguments against same-sex marriage is the fear of losing superiority. America’s Founding Fathers owned slaves and indentured servants because of superiority. It was perfectly natural for white people to own human beings as property instead of paying them for their work. After the Civil War, white people kept their superiority with “separate but equal” as blacks were forced to use segregated bathrooms, drinking fountains, and lunch counters. Everyone knew that the facilities were not equal–not even the schools–but white people maintained superiority.

Women had to fight for the vote because of male superiority. The same issue kept blacks from voting even after the 14th Amendment to the Constitution extended rights to all male citizens, excluding Native Americans until the 1960s.

In the 21st century, LGBT citizens can vote, but many same-sex couples cannot be legally married in the state where they live. The argument against marriage equality is that LGBT people want “special rights,” which are actually the same rights as the rest of the people in the United States. In a brief opposing marriage equality, Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear (D) argues that his state’s ban on same-sex marriage shouldn’t be considered discrimination because everyone is banned from marrying the same sex, gay and straight alike.

220px-Gadsden_flag.svgSome Tea Partiers who claim that the world discriminates against them more than any other group use the flag with the cry, “Don’t Tread on Me.” It was originally used as opposition to foreign countries but evolved into the Libertarian symbol, and from there it became associated with militia and white supremacist ideology. Jerad and Amanda Miller put the flag on the corpse of one of the two  Las Vegas police officers who they killed. Tea Partiers and other supremacists who oppose rights for all because they don’t want to be treated the same as everyone else.

Bobby Jindal, Louisiana’s governor, is currently leading the charge in this need for superiority. In his op-ed for the New York Times, “Bobby Jindal: I’m Holding Firm against Gay Marriage,” he pictures himself as the standard-bearer “advancing the cause of freedom and free enterprise.” He calls on the business community to “stand shoulder to shoulder with those fighting for religious liberty” because “the left-wing ideologues who oppose religious freedom are the same ones who seek to tax and regulate businesses out of existence.” IBM has already criticized Jindal for supporting legal discrimination under the guise of “religious freedom.” Instead of trying to solve his state’s 19-percent poverty rate and its 17-percent uninsured rate, he focuses on a law based on bigotry and prejudice. As Jindal points out, Louisiana passed a Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which prohibits government from unduly burdening a person’s exercise of religion. This 2010 law isn’t enough for Jindal, however. Now he wants the Marriage and Conscience Act:

“The legislation would prohibit the state from denying a person, company or nonprofit group a license, accreditation, employment or contract—or taking other “adverse action —based on the person or entity’s religious views on the institution of marriage.”

Jindal’s rallying cry:

“Those who believe in freedom must stick together: If it’s not freedom for all, it’s not freedom at all. This strategy requires populist social conservatives to ally with the business community on economic matters and corporate titans to side with social conservatives on cultural matters. This is the grand bargain that makes freedom’s defense possible.”

Jindal’s freedom is for those who do the rejecting, not the rejected. It calls for discrimination by those who wish to be superior in the name of Jindal’s freedom. Jindal even tries to show that discriminating against LGBT people isn’t discrimination:

“The bill does not, as opponents assert, create a right to discriminate against, or generally refuse service to, gay men or lesbians. The bill does not change anything as it relates to the law in terms of discrimination suits between private parties. It merely makes our constitutional freedom so well defined that no judge can miss it.”

Jindal justifies his actions through following the consensus of the country, “that marriage is between one man and one women” but acknowledges that “consensus is changing.” He adds, “I will not change my faith-driven view on this matter, even if it becomes a minority opinion.”

Actually, Jindal’s opinion is already a minority opinion: the newest poll shows that 63 percent of “the country” supports same-sex marriage and fewer than 33 percent oppose it. Even states without marriage equality show that a majority approves the right for same-sex couples to marry. As for serving people, 57 percent of “the country” think that business should be required to serve everyone. Among Republicans under 30, 61 percent support marriage for gay and lesbian couples.

Jindal concludes by writing, “A pluralistic and diverse society like ours can exist only if we all tolerate people who disagree with us.” I agree with him: that’s the reason that all people should be served, not just some of them. The law should not make some of the people superior to others.

In the next week, religious zealots will try to flex their muscles of superiority because of the marriage equality arguments before the Supreme Court. James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family and Family Talk Radio, talks about a second “Civil War,” and Rick Scarborough, Vision America Action, compares his work to that of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German Lutheran pastor who resisted the Nazis. Tony Perkins warns of a revolution. Objections to legalized marriage equality in a brief from a conservative religious coalition could be a Christian interpretation of the dreaded Sharia law.

“Should the court require the states and the people to ‘ritualize’ sodomite behavior by government issuance of a state marriage license, it could bring God’s judgment on the nation. Holy Scripture attests that homosexual behavior and other sexual perversions violate the law of the land, and when the land is ‘defiled,’ the people have been cast out of their homes.”

The brief relies heavily on Leviticus 18:22 and Leviticus 24-30. So much for separation of church and state. More ranting can be found here.

While the superiority toward minorities usually comes from white men, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) has developed an unusual argument. In her brief, filed with James Bopp, Jr. and Carolyn McLarty, she argues that women should have to marry men because they have a “socializing effect” on men in marriage.

The three assert, “Marriage helps to focus a man’s energy and aggression to socially desirable ends, providing for and protecting wives and children, making their wives and children feel secure, happy, and loved.” Without the need to support a family men probably wouldn’t even work and would certainly have numerous sexual partners without a women.

The brief continues, “Women are more likely than men to initiate divorce because of their different emotional makeup. The complementary, tempering effect of the opposite sex is simply not present in same-sex marriages.”

Because men are too promiscuous and women are too emotional for successful long-term relationships, “the government has no obligation to recognize or promote same-sex marriage.” That’s Blackburn’s argument for forcing both men and women into opposite-sex marriage.

I give the top award for bizarre arguments against same-sex marriage to the man who claims 100 “scholars” blame 900,000 abortions on legalized marriage equality. The twisted logic posits that marriage equality will make opposite-sex couples think that marriage has lost its meaning. They will then not get married. Few marriages lead to unmarried sex which leads to pregnancies out of wedlock which creates more unwanted pregnancies which causes—are you with me?—900,000 abortions. Gene Schaerr used this argument in his amicus brief although he freely admits that he doesn’t see a cause and effect in his “reasoning.” The lawyer who failed in Utah’s case against marriage equality, Gene Schaerr was once a clerk for Justice Antonin Scalia.

The question during the next few months is whether the Supreme Court will have enough men needing superiority to deny equal marriage rights to LGBT couples.

April 27, 2014

Is Religion Becoming More Reasonable?

The question surrounding some of this week’s religion news is whether the idea of separation of church and state is getting through to a few people. For example, a proposal in Louisiana have the Christian Bible as the state book has been dropped. State Rep. Thomas Carmody said that the bill had become a distraction. (I wonder if he actually meant “embarrassment.”)

State Rep. Wesley Bishop had earlier warned Carmody about potential difficulties: “You cannot separate Christianity from the Bible. If you adopt the Bible as the official state book, you also adopt Christianity as the state religion…. We are going to open ourselves up to a lawsuit.”

People in the U.S. military who don’t want to be classified as atheist but maintain reason over faith can now be classified as “humanist.”  In the military, 3.6 percent of members consider themselves humanists.

kamalaMarvel Comics has gone beyond acceptance of gender and sexual orientation diversity by introducing a Muslim teenager from New Jersey as the newest superhero. Kamala Khan’s shapeshifting superpowers are written to explore ideas not only of identity and coming of age but also of faith. Although not the first comic book to feature a Muslim superhero, the new Ms. Marvel is the first to headline her own comic book.

For the first time, a pope has taken responsibility for the ‘‘evil’’ of priests who raped and molested children. Pope Francis asked forgiveness from the victims and promised that the church would be even bolder in protecting youth. Last month he named four women and an abuse survivor to a sex abuse advisory panel to address the sanctioning of bishops who cover for pedophiles. Pope John Paul II denounced children-abusing priests, and Pope Benedict XVI said he was regretful when he met with victims. Neither one took personal responsibility for these crimes or asked for forgiveness.

After the Boy Scouts of America revoked the troop charter of Seattle-area Rainier Beach United Methodist Church because the scoutmaster is gay, Pastor Monica Corsaro published a statement in Time, explaining why they are supporting Geoff McGrath. Earlier this week, the Boy Scouts of America revoked the troop charter of a Seattle-area United Methodist Church because the church would not boot the scoutmaster Geoff McGrath, a married, gay Eagle Scout. Monica Corsaro, the pastor of the church, explains why:

“Putting him in the leadership of this troop would reflect and live out the values of our congregation, and that we would not have a troop at Rainier Beach UMC unless it was fully inclusive, because that is who we are.”

Corsaro’s entire column is well-worth reading.

homeless statueIn a wealthy Davidson (NC) community, a statue of a homeless Jesus lies on a park bench outside St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, an installation that has resulted in great controversy. From the woman who called the police because she thought it was actually a homeless person to the Rev. David Buck who said that “it gives authenticity to the church,” the responses show how people perceive their relationship to the god that they worship. Just the NPR article got over 1,000 responses, some of them very angry. One end result is that more churches plan to install replicas of this statue. Buck is a brave man.

Although a Supreme Court ruling in Alabama is horrible, the blatantly unconstitutional statements from Chief Justice Roy Moore may overturn the ruling. The issue of Hicks v. Alabama is whether women who use drugs during pregnancy can be charged with child endangerment. Hicks argued that the word “child” in the chemical-endangerment statute did not apply to an unborn child, but eight of the nine justices disagreed with that position.

Moore not only used biblical references in his arguments but also continued the myth that United States law is based on religion: “I write separately to emphasize that the inalienable right to life is a gift of God that civil government must secure for all persons—born and unborn…. When it was signed by our Founding Fathers in 1776, the Declaration returned to first principles of God, His law, and human rights and government.” He also claimed that Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration with Sir William Blackstone’s legal treatise in mind,“that God’s law was superior to all other laws.”

Like other fundamentalist Christians, Moore is trying to rewrite history: Jefferson’s reference in the Declaration of Independence is to a deistic “Creator.” Moore’s belief that the right to life is divine and should be enforced by government is made moot by the First Amendment. His references to the Nazi officials tried for crimes against humanity in Nuremberg, Germany, after World War II compared them to others, like the pregnant woman, who should be found guilty of crimes although they have not broken any laws. To Moore, divine law should receive preference over secular law.

Roy Moore is well known for his disdain toward the First Amendment. After he refused to remove a two-ton Ten Commandments from the state judicial building in the 1990s, he was sued. Despite losing, he kept the monument and defended himself by saying, “Actually, the organic law of our country establishes God as the basis for our justice system.” An ethics panel unanimously found that he had “willfully and publicly” disobeyed the law and removed him as Chief Justice, but he was re-elected in 2012.

American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer has determined that “there are consequences” for those making “foolish declarations.” He referred to the boycott of the Christian rock band Jars of Clay after lead singer, Dan Haseltine, supported for marriage equality. Maybe Fischer will understand the consequences for Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty for his anti-LGBT, anti-black comments instead of seeing this as the “persecution” of the Religious Right.

Logic, however, is not the strong suit of fundamental Christians. Thirteen states still have anti-sodomy laws on the books despite the Lawrence v. Texas ruling legalizing sodomy throughout the United States. To clean out meaningless laws from the state books, a Louisiana legislator introduced a bill to remove the anti-sodomy law. The House voted to keep the law 67-27 with 11 members abstaining.

sodomy necropheliaLouisiana’s legislative illogic comes in with their legalization of necrophilia. It is one of four states that does not explicitly ban the practice of having sex with dead bodies. [map] Three other states—Nebraska, New Mexico, and Vermont—also have not banned necrophilia, but these states have no anti-sodomy laws.

Some states think that necrophilia is banned under prevention of “crimes against nature” or classify it as a sexual assault against a person who can’t give consent. That premise didn’t work in Wisconsin. Three young men arrested for trying to exhume a corpse for sex were charged with attempted sexual assault for intent to have sex with an unwilling party. An appeals court threw out their conviction with the position that state law doesn’t recognize a corpse as a person, removing consent as an issue. The Supreme Court did reinstate the conviction on shaky grounds with a 5-2 vote.

Being Christian can be dangerous. Marco Gusmini, 21, was crushed and died when a giant crucifix in the Italian Alpine village of Cevo fell on him. Dedicated to Pope John Paul II in 1998, the 98-foot-high cross crashed down during a ceremony three days before today’s historic canonization for the late pope and his predecessor, Pope John XXIII.

crucifix

Sainthood for John XXIII was fast-tracked as Francis did away with the traditional requirement of two vetted and verified miracles in exchange for a nun reporting in 1966 that he allegedly cured her of gastrointestinal hemorrhaging after she appealed to “the Good Pope.” Francis has already elevated saints with not one confirmed miracle. Some Catholics see saints as good PR, especially when the Vatican wants to build its membership in Africa and Asia. Polish Monsignor Slawomir Oder said that the proclamation of saints “helps strengthen the faith of the people.”

Meanwhile, there was evidently no indication of Marco Gusmini’s death during today’s ceremony. Maybe his village will remember him.

March 23, 2014

Religion Tied to Contraception, Missing Aircraft, Teaching, Parades

Two big religious stories are in the news this week. One is the question of whether private businesses who declare themselves as “religious persons” have the right to deny employees equal health care to that from other businesses. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga maintain that they shouldn’t have to allow their insurance to cover free contraception because they are opposed to contraception. The case goes before the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday.

The 2,000 sisters of the National Coalition of American Nuns (NCAN) oppose the denial of contraception. Their position is that any group denying contraception in insurance is equivalent to holding women hostage.

In support of the Affordable Care Act provision that mandates birth control coverage, NCAN wrote:

“NCAN is dismayed that the Little Sisters of the Poor, the University of Notre Dame and other Catholic organizations are challenging the Affordable Care Act. Spurred on by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops these organizations are attempting to hold hostage all women by refusing insurance to them for contraceptives.”

Sister Donna Quinn, head of NCAN, said:

“This has gotten out of hand. It isn’t ‘faith and freedom’ when reproductive autonomy isn’t extended by the Catholic Church to women… It isn’t freedom when a woman can be held hostage by the owner of a business.”

The nuns aren’t just writing about the problem. They are circulating an online petition to the U.S. Supreme Court and holding a Faith Rally in front of the Supreme Court building on March 25. The petition states:  “The sin is not a person using birth control. The sin is denying women the right and the means to plan their families.” Fourteen religious denominations support free access to birth control as well as the women who are not affiliated with religions.

The second issue is the missing Malaysian Airlines Flight 370.CNN and Fox are determined to connect the disaster with religious beliefs. CNN’s anchor Don Lemon has possible answers for the disappearance. One was a “supernatural” event in which God took it (maybe that it like the rapture! Another was the possibility of a “black hole.”

Anne Graham Lotz, Billy Graham’s daughter, blogged that this disappearance is a “small snapshot” of what will happen with the Rapture when millions of Christians miraculously disappear. At least, CNN didn’t use this “information” as “news.”

Fox “News” Bill Hemmer used historic comparisons to discuss the long time it may take to find the aircraft. “It took us what 100 years to find the Titanic? It took us 2,000 years to find Noah’s Ark. Do we ever find Flight 370?” The first is true; the second highly questionable and totally inappropriate when announcing the news. Joe Coscarelli explained that Hemmer was referring to Evangelical Christian explorers, who claimed to have uncovered evidence of the boat’s existence—claims determined to be a hoax even by Fox News.

Bill Maher gave his own version of Noah’s Ark, calling God a “psychotic mass murderer” and the United States a “stupid country” for their belief that the biblical story is factual. Fundamental Christians took offense. Bryan Fischer argued that the story of Noah’s Ark is true and shows human free will choices that forced God to kill very living thing. Maher can say these things and live, said Fischer, because God is merciful, compassionate, and loving. God is patiently giving Maher a chance to repent and ask forgiveness, according to Fischer.

Other people who accept myths as facts are incensed about Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, the television sequel to Carl Sagan’s 1980 series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, hosted and narrated by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson. The creationist Answers in Genesis complained that Cosmos is not balanced because it doesn’t give airtime for creationism. Cosmos covers a wide range of scientific topics from Earth’s place in the universe to the origin of life. Tyson explained his concept of scientific balance: “You don’t talk about the spherical earth with NASA and then say let’s give equal time to the flat-earthers.”

A Buddhist student and his parents have won a lawsuit against Negreet High School in Louisiana after the court found that the school violated the student’s religious liberty. According to the decision, sixth-grade science teacher Rita Roark violated the First Amendment when she demanded biblical answers from science questions and called the student “stupid” because he didn’t know religious answers to questions such as the age of the earth. She also maintained in class that evolution is a “stupid theory made up by stupid people who don’t want to believe in God.” When the student’s parents complained, Sabine Parish Superintendent Sara Ebab told them to change their faith to fit “the Bible Belt” or go to another school where “there are more Asians.”

Louisiana District Judge Elizabeth Foote ordered the school to remove all of the Christian propaganda—pictures of Jesus, posters, Bible verses, official prayers, etc.  from the premises. School officials cannot initiate prayers, use class work to promote religion, sponsor a religious belief, or hold religious services at the school. Students are still permitted to pray in school and participate in religious clubs. Further:

“The District and School Board are permanently enjoined from permitting School Officials at any school within the School District to promote their personal religious beliefs to students in class or during or in conjunction with a School Event… School Officials shall not denigrate any particular faith, or lack thereof, or single out any student for disfavor or criticism because of his or her particular faith or religious belief, or lack thereof.”

The ruling demanded that the school pay $4,000 in damages to the student’s parents as well as $40,000 in court costs, a large sum for a school of a little over 500 in a district with about 4,300 students.

In another story from Louisiana, Randy Dill wants to see the Holy Bible made the “official state book,” and he persuaded Rep. Thomas Carmody to file a bill that would make this law. They both think they can succeed because the bible is Alabama’s state bible. Do I sense more lawsuits?

Murfreesboro (TN) has already spent $343,000 in a losing lawsuit to keep the Muslims from building a mosque. Now plaintiffs have gone back to court to stop the “construction and improvement of the cemetery.” The ad at the top of the article reads: “Nobody cares for you like a neighbor.”

Parade bigots who refuse to let LGBT people openly march could take a lesson from NYC Pride, the organization behind New York City’s gay pride parade. The Catholic League, led by bigot Bill Donohue applied for a float in this year’s parade with the banner, “Straight Is Great.” No problem, said the parade coordinators. “Straight is great—as long as there’s no hate.” As NYC Pride’s managing director, Chris Frederick, said:

“Straight allies are great. We have thousands of straight people participating in the Pride March, including Catholic groups, who support LGBT youth, families and married couples.”

Meanwhile Donohue has called on Catholics to boycott Guinness, Sam Adams, and Heineken because he thinks that the LGBT community bullied them to drop their sponsorship for the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Boston. According to religious people, the First Amendment only works when it’s in their favor.

November 11, 2012

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It’s Sunday, and the evangelicals are preaching their venom to whomever will listen—much of it against women. American Family Association president Tim Wildmon and research director Ed Vitagliano told  WorldNetDaily editor Joseph Farah why President Obama was re-elected. “Researching” the opposition’s campaign strategies, Vitagliano determined “they hooked women to Obama through these Hollywood stars” like George Clooney and Sarah Jessica Parker. Vitagliano figured out that women voters simply think, “‘I love George Clooney, George Clooney loves President Obama, therefore I love President Obama.’” Tim Wildmon added, “This was history made Tuesday night in this respect: a fellow won re-election for president who was by all measurements a failure, an utter and complete failure.”

I know that many of the Evangelicals refuse to believe facts about climate change and evolution, but they are going over the edge in their inability to understand that women really can think for themselves. Is it possibly that men think women evaluate situations this way because that’s the way they themselves figure out the best candidates? Bill Maher frequently states that conservatives live in a bubble; this is the Evangelical bubble about women.

Even farther out on the edge is the column from Christian Men’s Defense Network. It seems that even some of them felt a little embarrassed, or at least uncomfortable that everyone was reading their rants, because they made the site “private.” Even the copy of it that I found has disappeared. I did, however, capture the following quotes before the group went underground.

 “The ‘gender gap’ should more accurately be called the slut vote… The Democrats have won the black vote by first “empowering” single black mothers. This is now beginning to happen in white suburbia, except unlike women in the urban black community, white suburban sluts start from a place of relative wealth and privilege (daddy’s little princess).  So instead Obama appealed to rich white sluts by forcing someone else (the Catholic church, in this case) to pay for their birth control, and by scaring them about alleged threats to their ability to take advantage of Planned Parenthood’s services (Planned Parenthood being conveniently located in the minority part of town, of course, so as to provide anonymity to visiting white girls whose white girl friends never go over there–except to visit Planned Parenthood themselves).

“One thing one has to remember about women, especially slutty ones:  They usually don’t make decisions based on reason. ..  Admittedly, the desire to slut it up isn’t the only factor in the gender gap.  America has a fiscal problem primarily because women want free stuff without ever having to work.  America is over-regulated because women don’t want to have to compete in the free market.”

Leah Taylor – photo

The Evangelicals are also determined to promote their propaganda in public schools. In one case, now wandering the courts for the past five years, concerned a teacher, John Freshwater, who went far past hanging religious posters in his room, asking students about their religious beliefs, and distributing worksheets to students opposing evolution while refusing to let the students take these materials home. It was the burn marks in the shape of a cross on a 13-year-old boy’s arm that led his parents to go to the school and complain.

When Freshwater was fired, he demanded a hearing before the school board and then an administrative hearing. After both went against him, Freshwater filed a lawsuit charging that his right to free speech and academic freedom had been violated. After failing in lower courts, the Ohio Supreme Court announced in July that it will hear Freshwater’s appeal. His case is being handled by the Rutherford Institute, a Virginia-based legal group that asserts in court papers that the teacher’s academic freedom rights have been violated.

“Academic freedom was once the bedrock of American education,” Rutherford Institute President John W. Whitehead said in a media statement.  “What we need today are more teachers and school administrators who understand that young people don’t need to be indoctrinated. Rather, they need to be taught how to think for themselves.” Two federal appeals courts and one state supreme court have ruled against teachers making this claim. In Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District a federal judge declared the teaching of intelligent design to be a violation of the First Amendment.

Catholics and Fundamentalist Christian got a great deal of attention during  the last election—only five days ago—with their rationales of why abortion should be illegal under any circumstances, including rape. According to these religions, women are property. In their reading of the  Bible, a man can give his daughters in marriage, keep concubines, have sex with his wife’s servants, or claim a desirable war captive as his own sexual property after a series of rituals to purify her. But in no case, including in the New Testament, is the woman’s consent required for sexual contact.

Punishment for rape relates only to male honor, tribal purity, and the belief that a non-virgin woman is damaged goods. According to the Bible, men can kill a woman for voluntarily giving up her purity. A rapist can be forced, essentially, to buy her.

The Biblical tradition of male supremacy begins with Eve: “Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you” (Gen. 3:16). The only purpose for sex is to produce male offspring. Abraham’s wife Sarah sends the slave girl Hagar to “lie with” her husband when she herself cannot conceive. In the only Biblical story about declining to produce a child, Onan refuses to father a son for his deceased brother and is killed when he spills his seed on the ground instead.

The children then become property, to be sacrificed if necessary, with God in control. God killed the first-born sons of the Egyptians in the Bible’s tale of Moses. Even in the New Testament, God gives his only son as a sacrifice.

The Catholic bishops and the Fundamentalists didn’t win this time; let’s keep it that way.

Aside (something to pray for): Florida has lost its claim as being the craziest vote-suppression state in the nation to Arizona. Because of the huge number of provisional ballots (think Hispanic vote) and non-count of early ballots uncounted, the state still has over 500,000 votes to count. In a state like Ohio or Florida, that’s not sizable; in Arizona it’s almost one-third of the vote. And the counts are close.

At 6:00 pm yesterday, Democrat Ron Barber was 289 votes ahead of his opponent for the House seat vacated when Gabby Giffords was seriously wounded by a shot in the head at a Tucson rally. In part of that district, Cochise County, 2,328 of the early ballots haven’t been counted yet. There’s also another oddness in Cochise County: 433 votes disappeared between the second and third count reports.

In Maricopa County, 322,000 ballots haven’t been counted for several House seats; in one district Democrat Kyrsten Sinema leads Vernon Parker by 4,710 votes, roughly 2.5 percent of votes counted. Richard Carmona, Democratic senate candidate, trails Jeff Flake by 75,000 votes, but Arizona has yet to tabulate over 500,000 ballots for the election.

In Arizona, Maricopa County gave out incorrect voting information to Latinos before the election, Jeff Flake’s senatorial campaign spread misinformation about polling places in robocalls, and, in 2008, the ACLU called Pima County (Tucson metropolitan area) tops in the country for voter suppression because officials threw out 18% of the provisional ballots cast.

And the Supreme Court is thinking about throwing out the Voting Rights Act. Yeah.

BTW: Louisiana is the first state to file a petition to secede from the Union.

August 27, 2012

Cut Defense; Leave NOAA, FEMA, Safety Net Alone

The GOP convention was intended to be the big story for this week until Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO) brought abortion and rape into the dialog and dug up the GOP’s position. The biggest story, however, is Tropical Storm Isaac which probably will become a hurricane before landfall somewhere in the Gulf Coast states.

Gov. Bobby Jindal cancelled his speech at the GOP convention to get back to Louisiana because of the threat to New Orleans, and Florida’s Gov. Rick Scott dropped out of the convention to protect his state. Nobody knows Isaac’s actual destination when it’s predicted to his land early Wednesday morning. Governors of Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana have started evacuations in their states and joined Scott in declaring emergencies.

The irony of the Isaac story is that Republicans have received early warning after trying to drastically cut funds for disaster preparedness and response. Their continuing resolution 2011 budget shrank funding for the National Oceanic Atmospheric Association’s (NOAA) Operations, Research, and Facilities by $454.3 million. The National Weather Service, part of NOAA, lost $126 million; FEMA dropped $24.3 million with FEMA state and local programs losing $783.3 million. Fortunately, this budget didn’t stick.

As part of last August’s Budget Control Act, Republicans agreed to make it easier to fund disaster relief but then reneged on this agreement. This isn’t new. Back in his 2009 response to the State of the Union, Jindal ridiculed the stimulus for having “$140 million for something called volcano monitoring.” Jindal is governor of a state that has hurricanes, not volcanoes. Not everyone else in the United States is in the same situation.

NOAA warned Congress that Republican cuts would stop them from warning people about hurricanes five to ten days out because of its aging satellites. Without the funding, the United States could go up to 18 months or even longer without any satellites.  If that were to happen, the Republicans might not know a hurricane is imminent for their 2016 convention.

Even when NOAA doesn’t want extra money for a project, Congress refused to allow them to make their activities more efficient. Last fall, when NOAA wanted to reorganize its existing climate capabilities and services into a “single point of entry” for users, Congress said no. NOAA cannot be permitted to “more efficiently and effectively respond to the rapidly increasing demand for easily accessible and timely scientific data and information about climate that helps people make informed decisions in their lives, businesses, and communities.”

The idea was that efficient, up-to-date information is important because of the likelihood of more droughts, floods, and storms; Republicans can’t admit that climate is changing. Since Congress turned down NOAA’s proposal, the organization has announced the last year and last half year are the hottest on record. The second half of this past June saw at least 170 all-time high temperatures either broken or tied. As of July 3, 56 percent of the contiguous U.S. experienced drought conditions, the largest percentage in the 12-year record of the U.S. Drought Monitor. During the June 2011-June 2012 period, each of the 13 consecutive months ranked among the warmest third of their historical distribution for the first time in the 1895-present record. The odds of this occurring randomly is 1 in 1,594,323.

When disastrous tornadoes hit Missouri, Republicans threatened to hold up any assistance until there were cuts in other places. The same for Virginia’s earthquake and the east coast’s Hurricane Irene.  A year ago House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) demanded that “that no more money be allocated for disaster relief unless it is offset by spending cuts elsewhere”—until he asked for FEMA money for his own district a month later.

If Republicans don’t get the FEMA aid that they request, they are angry. When FEMA refused a request for federal aid for wildfire victims in Oklahoma, Gov. Mary Fallin called a government agency’s rejection letter “bureaucratic” and “cruel.”

If anything is “bureaucratic” and “cruel,” it’s the Republicans’ refusal to allow states’ residents to get the health care from the federal government that costs the states nothing. Texas is a prime example: the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals has now upheld Texas’s decision to deny women any health care through Planned Parenthood or other clinic that simply makes referrals for abortions.  The court decision will deny health care to at least 50,000 women.

Texas has also refused to accept the federal money that would provide Medicaid for people with salaries between one-fourth of the poverty level and one and one-fourth of the poverty level. Because of Gov. Rick Perry’s arrogance and indifference, families making between $5,000 and $25,000 will not qualify for Medicaid or any other remedy from the Affordable Care Act. That’s bureaucratic and cruel.

If Republicans want FEMA help for people who need assistance, they need to allocate funds for it. They also need to revise their position in denying all people any safety net except the wealthy—who don’t need it. And they need to stop using their personal morality to control women.

Where can the government get the money to help people? Defense expenditures went from $583.38 billion in 2003 when we were in two wars to $711.42 billion in 2011 when we were no longer in war. About a half century ago, Dwight Eisenhower said, “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists, and will persist.” We are now living in Eisenhower’s nightmare.

If Republicans want small government, they should start with the defense budget. Support the programs that actually help people, such as the safety net and NOAA.

August 18, 2012

Louisiana Uses Taxpayer Money to Promote Ignorance

Many states pay religious schools with tax-payer money, thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that legitimizes the practice, but nowhere is the practice so rampant as in Gov. Bobby Jindal’s Louisiana since he signed the new law promoting this.

Now families in Louisiana earning up to 250 percent of the federal poverty level (currently $23,000 for a family of four) and whose children attend a “failing” public school can attend private schools using public dollars. A second bill gives tax-payers a 100-percent tax credit for money donated to groups providing vouchers for tuition at religious and other private schools. Jindal is a very religious man as shown by the fact that he exorcised a friend in college when she started acting “strange”—maybe because she was being treated for cancer.

What are the Louisiana youth learning from the tens of millions of dollars that the state gives these 119 private schools, all except one affiliated with Christianity? College sophomore Zack Kopplin did a little research and found that at least 19 of these schools, ones that are collecting almost $4 million in tax-payer money, teach or promote creationism. Many of the Christian schools use Pensacola-based A Beka Book curriculum or textbooks from Bob Jones University Press that include such “scientific” information as the existence of the Loch Ness Monster.

Researcher Rachel Tabachnick and writer Thomas Vinciguerra have examined the curriculum and textbooks and discovered some of these gems of “education”:

Dinosaurs and humans probably lived side-by-side at the same time—Life Science, Third ed., Bob Jones University Press, 2007

Dragons are real because dinosaur skulls had special chemical-producing glands that may have produced fire and smoke— Life Science, Third ed., Bob Jones University Press, 2007

The purpose of the Trail of Tears, during which over 4,000 Native Americans died on the forced trek to displace them from their homes, was for God “to bring many Indians to Christ.”—America: Land That I Love, Teacher ed., A Beka Books, 1994

Africa needs religion;only about ten percent of Africans can read and write. In some areas the mission schools have been shut down by Communists who have taken over the government.”—Old World History and Geography in Christian Perspective, Third ed., A Beka Book

“The majority of slave holders treated their slaves well.”—United States History for Christian Schools, Second ed., Bob Jones University Press, 1991

“[The Ku Klux] Klan in some areas of the country tried to be a means of reform, fighting the decline in morality and using the symbol of the cross. Klan targets were bootleggers, wife-beaters, and immoral movies. In some communities it achieved a certain respectability as it worked with politicians.”—United States History for Christian Schools, Second ed., Bob Jones University Press, 1991

The Great Depression of the 1930s was not as serious as people might think: “perhaps the best known work of propaganda to come from the Depression was John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath…. Other forms of propaganda included rumors of mortgage foreclosures, mass evictions, and hunger riots and exaggerated statistics representing the number of unemployed and homeless people in America.”—United States History: Heritage of Freedom, Second ed., A Beka Book, 1996

The U.S. Supreme Court made fetuses into slaves: “the Burger Court held that an unborn child was … the ‘property’ of the mother (much like slaves were considered property in the 1857 case of Dred Scott v. Sandford).”—American Government in Christian Perspective, Second ed., A Beka Book, 1997

Satan is the cause of Communism: “Satan hates the family and has hurled his venom against it in the form of Communism.”—American Government in Christian Perspective, Second ed., A Beka Book, 1997

Mark Twain and Emily Dickinson are not worth studying as literature: “[Mark] Twain’s outlook was both self-centered and ultimately hopeless…. Twain’s skepticism was clearly not the honest questioning of a seeker of truth but the deliberate defiance of a confessed rebel…. Several of [Emily Dickinson’s] poems show a presumptuous attitude concerning her eternal destiny and a veiled disrespect for authority in general. Throughout her life she viewed salvation as a gamble, not a certainty. Although she did view the Bible as a source of poetic inspiration, she never accepted it as an inerrant guide to life.”—Elements of Literature for Christian Schools, Bob Jones University, 2001

Students should not study abstract math: “unlike the ‘modern math’ theorists, who believe that mathematics is a creation of man and thus arbitrary and relative, A Beka Book teaches that the laws of mathematics are a creation of God and thus absolute…A Beka Book provides attractive, legible, and workable traditional mathematics texts that are not burdened with modern theories such as set theory.”—ABeka.com

Gay people “have no more claims to special rights than child molesters or rapists.”—Teacher’s Resource Guide to Current Events for Christian Schools, 1998-1999, Bob Jones University Press, 1998

“Global environmentalists have said and written enough to leave no doubt that their goal is to destroy the prosperous economies of the world’s richest nations.”—Economics: Work and Prosperity in Christian Perspective, Second ed., A Beka Books, 1999

Globalization is a precursor to rapture: “but instead of this world unification ushering in an age of prosperity and peace, as most globalists believe it will, it will be a time of unimaginable human suffering as recorded in God’s Word. The Anti-christ will tightly regulate who may buy and sell.”—Economics: Work and Prosperity in Christian Perspective, Second ed., A Beka Books, 1999

The Christian legislators of Louisiana, led by Gov. Jindal, may soon discover that tax-payer money providing the education promoting these myths may also pay for beliefs that they don’t like. One Muslim school has been rejected by the legislature, but this practice may not continue to be successful.

The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education have oversight over the curricula in private parochial schools that accept state vouchers. In essence, they can tell private religious schools that they cannot teach creationism, a place where church and state conflict, something that the First Amendment attempted to avoid.

Valerie Hodges, a legislator who voted in favor of the law, is now horrified to discover that any religious school fits the law, especially because she believes that the state has 1,000 Muslim schools. If more legislators develop the same horror that Louisiana’s children might be taught in religious schools outside the Christian belief, the law may not last long. Meanwhile there is a hearing in October to determine the constitutionality of the state’s new law.

The problem of providing tax-payer money to religious schools is not new. A year ago a study showing that 200,000 young people in 12 states and the District of Columbia were receiving tax-payer tuition, many of them learning intolerance and lies. In addition to being virulently anti-abortion and anti-gay, the textbooks and curriculum teach that government safety nets, regulation, minimum wage, and progressive taxes are described as contrary to the Bible.

The textbooks in private schools demonstrate hostility not only toward other religions, including Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Shintoism, and traditional African and Native American religions but also toward other Christians, including non-evangelical Protestants and Roman Catholics. The A Beka civics text states, “God’s original purpose for government was to punish the evil and reward the good.” The same text describes the ideal form of government. “All governments are ordained by God, but none compare to government by God, theocracy.”

The tragedy of sending young people to private schools because of the assumed failure of public schools is that students do worse with the voucher system. In the oldest voucher system program, Milwaukee’s School Choice Program, students with vouchers perform below the level of public school students. Cleveland shows similar results to Milwaukee’s students. In fact, in some private voucher schools less than 20% of students reach basic proficiency levels in reading and math.

Even public schools in Louisiana trample on the rights of students. Delhi Charter School required all female students who are believed to be pregnant to take a pregnancy test. Those who are pregnant or refuse are forced to be home schooled. After the ACLU stepped in, the school said they would change their policy but did not specify what the new one would be. Expelling pregnant girls has been illegal since the passage of Title IX in the early 1970s, but school officials said they were not aware that they were breaking the law with this policy.

Many people in Louisiana suffer from ignorance. Hodges, who says she wants children to be taught the religion of the founding fathers, is ignorant of the fact that founding fathers were largely Deists, not Christians. Thomas Jefferson knew that democracy depends on a well-educated populace able to reason and publicly debate. Today’s conservatives consider education to be dangerous because it teaches critical thinking and could keep the conservatives from taking over the country. They benefit from intolerance and ignorance.

May 31, 2012

ALEC Continues Downhill Slide

ALEC used to be the secret right-wing group that provided millions of dollars to write conservative laws such as “stand your ground,” voter repression in the name of identifying fraud, and unconstitutional anti-choice laws. I say “used to be” because  the American Legislative Exchange Council was forced out of the closet into the light of media’s day last month. Until today the list of corporations running away from ALEC had included 19 large corporations such as amazon.com, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Procter & Gamble, and Blue Cross/Blue Shield have dropped from ALEC. Nonprofits like the gigantic Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation also separated themselves from the far-right Koch-sponsored organization. Today both retail giant Wal-Mart and Medtronic, a medical device company, dumped ALEC.

ALEC has more than 2,000 legislative members, primarily Republican, from all 50 states, nearly one-third of all sitting legislators and more than 85 members of Congress and 14 sitting or former governors who are considered “alumni.” Approximately 300 corporate, foundation, and other private-sector groups are other, higher paying, members. ALEC’s chair, currently David Frizzell (IN)  rotates with a new legislator appointed to the position each year.

Wisconsin under Gov. Scott Walker is the poster-child for ALEC with its anti-consumer, union-busting, voter-repression laws while giving huge tax cuts for corporations and the richest of its citizens. Of the 132 legislators, 49 are ALEC members, including top leadership in both houses.  Walker began his devastation with an ALEC “omnibus” tort bill, making it harder for Wisconsin residents to hold corporations accountable after dangerous products injure or kill people.

Another poster-child, albeit much quieter than Wisconsin, is Louisiana. Gov. Bobby Jindal used ALEC bills that advocate for the privatization of traditionally public services, like health care, prisons and education based on the misguided conservative belief that the results will be more efficient and competitive. Privatization is far more costly and less efficient as seen by the replacements in the military and prisons.

In Louisiana, laws were rushed through without any thought, for example the “parent trigger” law that allows a majority of parents connected with one school to change it into a charter school. There is no evaluation for the converted school, either before or after, and no way for failed charter schools to be “re-triggered.” Student placement is also limited. ALEC advice is to push a large quantity of bills very fast, to get them passed before people notice.

One influential trade association staying with ALEC is the National Association of Water Companies (NAWC) that represents companies providing water services to almost 73 million people in the country. That’s almost one-fourth of the population. The goal of NAWC and ALEC is to legislate loopholes for water protections and federal oversight of fracking, a method of extracting oil that forces millions of gallons of water mixed with sand and chemicals into the ground. This practice not only puts drinking water resources at risk but also may be the reason behind the increasing number of earthquakes in the Midwest.

Another powerful corporation—and ALEC member—pushing for fracking is ExxonMobil. Model legislation from ALEC, based on a Texas law, gives guidelines for the public disclosure of chemicals in drilling fluids used to extract natural gas through fracking. The model bill has loopholes allowing energy companies to withhold the names of certain fluid contents, meaning that companies—like ExxonMobil—are then allowed to use any contaminants that they want without anyone knowing what these are.

One organization dropping ALEC last month is the national certifying body for teachers in the United States, the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS). Supposedly a non-profit organization focusing on teacher certification, NBPTS also takes positions on political positions affect teacher certification.

Some legislators seem incredibly naïve about how ALEC truly lobbies. For example, state Rep. Paul Bandy, co-chair of the New Mexico branch of ALEC, said in an interview that he didn’t solicit donations from ALEC, that money just appears in his mailbox from ALEC-connected corporations. I guess he considers himself really lucky. He did understand that the ALEC laws might not pass if people know their origin. Bandy opposes the use of tax-deductible money for political purposes but didn’t seem to object using ALEC’s tax-deductible money for political purposes.

The South Carolina legislature is so supportive of ALEC that it has created a special ethics exemption for the organization. Lobbying rules that govern how public officials can interact with lobbyists prevent legislators from having their lodging and transportation provided by lobbyists—with the exception of ALEC—because “the outings that ALEC organizes for politicians are essential to its influence. At these retreats, ALEC officials work with state lawmakers to craft new legislation.” They certainly do!

When ALEC’s activities became widely known last month, there seemed to be a slight bit of hope after the organization announced that they would eliminate its Public Safety and Elections task force. Hope was short-lived, however, after the task force’s chair, state Rep. Jerry Madden (R-TX) said many of the issues would be transferred to other committees. ALEC’s definition of “public safety” is passing laws allowing people to go after others if they “feel threatened” and kill them if necessary, as happened to Trayvon Martin in Florida a year ago.

Disturbed when ALEC dropped its voter suppression arm, the National Center for Public Policy Research (NCPPR) stepped in and formed a “Voter Identification Task Force.” The NCPPR also criticized ALEC for withdrawing the voter-oppression task force after losing only 11 corporate sponsors. Part of NCPPR’s past activities have been to help Jack Abramoff launder millions of dollars and to raise funds by “bombarding senior citizens with ‘fright mail,'” money used to do things like help Exxon Mobil oppose efforts to address climate change.

One organization is fighting back against ALEC through its fraudulent tax-exempt status. The watchdog Common Cause has obtained hundreds of pages of documents and shared these with the New York Times. They are also using these documents and public records to support its Internal Revenue Service complaint, stating that ALEC does not deserve its tax-exempt status because it is a lobbying organization. ALEC denies that it is writing laws, but its membership brochure bragged that the group introduces over 1,000 bills annually and passes about 17 percent of these.

ALEC also sends talking points to its lawmakers to use when speaking publicly about issues like President Obama’s health care law. Alan P. Dye, a lawyer for ALEC, acknowledged that the group’s practice of communicating with lawmakers about specific bills could meet the federal definition of lobbying. His justification is that these communications were a result of “nonpartisan research and analysis.” Lisa Graves, the executive director of the Center for Media and Democracy disagreed, stating that as of last August, all but one of 104 leadership positions within the organization were filled by Republicans and that the policies ALEC promoted were almost uniformly conservative.

Common Cause has made progress in at least one state. The Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board will investigate ALEC for lobbying violations in that state. The board will likely address the complaint in July. In Minnesota, Common Cause also filed a complaint with state Attorney General Lori Swanson alleging that ALEC has misrepresented its role by filing as a 501 (c) (3).

The icing on the cake is within the IRS procedures: According to IRS policies, an analyst in the Whistleblower Office must consider the information provided by Common Cause. Common Cause could receive between 15 and 30 percent of any taxes, penalties and interest collected, if certain requirements are met. Only the IRS can challenge a nonprofit organization’s tax-exempt status because of court rulings.

The only thing better than ALEC having to pay taxes is for a watchdog organization to get some of it!

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