AMERICAblog News A great nation deserves the truth // One of America's top progressive sites for news and opinion Mon, 03 Aug 2015 19:44:08 +0000 en-US hourly 1 “Eggs Benedict” art installation portrays former pope using 17,000 condoms Mon, 03 Aug 2015 19:43:39 +0000 Last week, the Milwaukee Art Museum unveiled “Eggs Benedict,” a depiction of former Pope Benedict XVI made entirely out of colorful, high-end condoms.

The installation is meant to highlight the former pontiff’s assertion that condoms were not the answer to the spread of HIV and AIDS.

According to the museum’s director, Daniel Keegan, the installation was scheduled to be unveiled later this year, but was moved up due to overwhelming interest from museum guests:

We’ve had thousands of people come to the museum expecting to see the art work when the story first broke and have not been able to see it. And of course there have been many people who have been commenting about the work, primarily online, who are making decisions about the work without actually seeing it. So it just made sense. We thought to just put it out and let people decide for themselves.

Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome Listecki blasted the art installation in a blog post last month, rehashing common arguments as to religion’s privilege to curtail speech and artistic expression:

In the last few weeks, we have been confronted with Bruce Jenner who wishes to be Caitlyn Jenner and accepted as a woman, and a female director of the NAACP, who presents herself as an African American woman (however was born and raised in a Caucasian family). Now, the Milwaukee Art Museum – the Calatrava – accepted a work that fashions a portrait of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI out of condoms and refers to it as art. What is similar in all these situations, is that they each rely on the notion of “radical individualism” based on personal freedom, that is exercised without license.

Observers gather around Eggs Benedict, screenshot via YouTube

Observers gather around Eggs Benedict, screenshot via YouTube

Now, I am all for freedom. Americans hold freedom sacred and the Church is for freedom. Remember, Jesus Christ died to make us free. But, freedom is never exercised in a vacuum. Freedom demands responsibility and that is a responsibility to truth, beauty and goodness (sorry, if I’m bringing the Ancient Greeks into the discussion, but it’s hard to ignore the obvious wisdom)…

…An artist who claims his or her work is some great social commentary and a museum that accepts it, insults a religious leader of a church, whose charitable outreach through its missionaries and ministers has eased the pain of those who suffer throughout the world, must understand the rejection of this local action by the believers who themselves have been insulted.

Of course, Archbishop Listecki misses the point entirely. Committed Catholics are supposed to be made to feel uncomfortable by the installation, as it calls their former leader out directly for supporting policies that are costing countless lives around the world. Regardless as to what you think about whether offense for offense’s sake should be put on display, this isn’t that. Bad ideas deserve ridicule, especially when that ridicule is used to encourage a reconsideration of the bad ideas in question.

What’s the big deal about undocumented immigrants voting? Mon, 03 Aug 2015 15:51:41 +0000 Next year, the Supreme Court will hear Evenwel v Abbott, a case that could redefine what we mean when we say “one person, one vote.” The issue at hand is the fact that some legislative districts contain more non-citizens than others. The plaintiffs in Evenwel are arguing that these non-citizens distort the apportionment process: When people who aren’t eligible to vote are counted when determining district size, they argue, it gives voters in those districts greater electoral weight.

There are a number of reasons why the Court could rule against the plaintiffs. For starters, the Census doesn’t collect the data necessary to satisfy the plaintiff’s proposed eligible voter standard. However, the real question at hand in the case is whether people who live within our borders, yet do not have legal status, should be considered part of the public sphere that determines how the government distributes resources and electoral power.

For practical and moral reasons, the answer to that question should be yes. Many, perhaps most, undocumented immigrants function in their day-to-day lives as citizens. They pay many forms of taxes. They send their kids, who are citizens if they were born in the country, to public schools. They work, and are subject to the same market forces that the government takes an interest in optimizing and regulating. In short, representatives enact laws that affect everyone living in their district, irrespective of their citizenship status, and so their districts should be based on total population, not just eligible voters.

However, if the Court takes this position in Evenwel – that the government should treat non-citizens living within district boundaries the same as citizens when considering representation – it will become awfully difficult to make a compelling case against allowing those same non-citizens to vote.

Granted, our legal system currently won’t allow it. Even for immigrants who have legal Social Security numbers (as many immigrants with work permits do), voter registration forms require voters to affirm – on penalty of perjury – that they are citizens. However, the Supreme Court’s recent decision not to hear an appeal brought by Arizona and Kansas, in which they requested to tie proof of citizenship requirements to voter registration, suggests that we shouldn’t go out of our way to prevent undocumented immigrants from voting, which a surprisingly high number of immigrants do. On the contrary, we should welcome their political speech, as undocumented immigrants are nothing more than Americans without paperwork.

After all, there are multiple kinds of citizenship. While citizenship is often defined as legal status, citizenship can also be defined as desired activity. The former is fairly straightforward: citizenship is granted at the discretion of the state. The latter, however, allows for a much broader scope of citizenship, applying to whomever is engaging in a given set of behaviors that either the state or society considers conducive to optimal democratic outcomes. As political theorists Will Kymlicka and Wayne Norman argue in a survey of work on citizenship theory, “we should expect a theory of the good citizen to be relatively independent of the legal question of what it is to be a citizen, just as a theory of the good person is distinct from the metaphysical (or legal) question of what it is to be a person.”

Notably, the theory of citizenship-as-desired-action is almost never used to argue that legal citizens who do not engage in desirable democratic activities should have their citizenship taken away (pace those who remain committed to preventing felons from having their voting rights restored). To the contrary, the theory is generally used to differentiate normatively “good” from “bad” democratic citizens – all of whom are still citizens. This would certainly allow for the expansion of the word to include those who behave like good democratic citizens while nevertheless lacking legal status.

Alternatively, undocumented immigrants should be allowed to vote based on the stakeholder principle, a term in citizenship theory to assign citizenship rights to those who have a “real and effective link” to or “permanent interest in membership” in the political community in question.

Stakeholder citizenship is attractive because it is less arbitrary or “accidental” than the methods usually used to assign citizenship. The United States’ policy of birthright citizenship, for example, gives citizenship rights to many who are largely unaffected by the United States government while denying them to many who do – DREAMers being the most high-profile example.

No Person is Illegal, via miguelb / Flickr

No Person is Illegal, via miguelb / Flickr

As noted above, and despite the most strident claims of those on the Right, many undocumented immigrants today satisfy the stakeholder principle. Even without legal status, they have assimilated into American culture, American society and the American market economy. They do everything traditionally required of good democratic citizens except interact with our democratic government, which threatens to deport them. They have real and effective links to the United States, and a permanent interest in the laws it passes. Once we grant that these people are acting as citizens, treated as citizens and should eventually be considered citizens, what argument is left for continuing to withhold citizenship rights that they have found ways to exercise?

Keep in mind, the concept of legal and illegal immigration in America is relatively new, with the first law restricting immigration being passed in 1875 and the first general immigration law – as in, one that didn’t specifically apply to prostitutes, criminals or Asians – coming in the form of the Quota Act of 1921. Even that law, initially intended as a temporary measure, was overtly discriminatory and loosely enforced, leading to it being replaced by the Immigration Act of 1965.

So while America has officially held the policy of birthright citizenship since its inception, it adopted a modified version of the stakeholder principle for much of its history. The clerks at Ellis Island didn’t deport the millions of Irish, Italian, Jewish and other immigrants over their failure to go through a formal application process. Those immigrants were naturalized as citizens solely on the basis of showing up willing to assimilate into our society by working hard, paying their taxes and, yes, voting. Voting in droves. In the 1800s, party machines went to great lengths to turn immigrants into voters – their voters — in some cases sending representatives out to meet the boats on their way from Ireland before they had even docked to send welcoming messages from their respective party leaders.

The same people arguing that we should deport and otherwise deny rights to our current stream of immigrants are the direct descendants of the Irish, German, Polish, Russian and other European immigrants who were not only assumed to be citizens upon arrival, but were immediately granted voting rights that they were actively encouraged to exercise when they got here. What’s more, those who opposed granting those European immigrants citizenship and voting rights are people who we now overwhelmingly agree knew nothing about what it means to be an American.

This history of American immigration is likely one of the reasons why American public overwhelmingly supports granting currently undocumented immigrants a path to legal citizenship. Unless your ancestors were capital-N Native Americans, they immigrated to this country. Unless they immigrated relatively recently, they didn’t face serious formal restrictions on becoming citizens and, by extension, having the right to vote. Those who we now call illegal immigrants are, for the same intents and purposes, citizens in the same way that the immigrants who came through Ellis Island were citizens. This being the case, the only thing keeping them from voting is their lack of formal documentation, which we already feel they should be given in the first place.

The public seems to be as or more accepting of this premise than they are on other electoral reform issues at the core of the progressive agenda – namely, voter ID laws. A May Rasmussen poll found that 35 percent of likely voters – including 53 percent of Democratic likely voters – supported allowing undocumented immigrants to vote if they could prove that they lived in the country and paid taxes. 60 percent of likely voters were opposed. Quibbles with Rasmussen’s methodology aside, that’s a higher level of public support than the level lf opposition to voter ID requirements.

When the public has been asked to give their opinion on voter ID laws, strongmajorities have consistently been in favor of them, with support generally reaching or exceeding 70 percent. Many Americans simply assume that they are already required to present a photo ID at the polls, even if they live in states without such requirements in place.

Many Americans oppose allowing undocumented immigrants to vote, but only because they don’t officially have legal status as American citizens. This makes perfect legal sense and no moral sense, using a narrow definition of citizenship that has been historically used to discriminate against immigrants taking socially desirable actions, establishing themselves as stakeholders in our society.

Using an arbitrary delineation of citizenship to exclude people who are already functioning as citizens, and who we already think should be classified as citizens, isn’t the basis of any sound democratic theory.

Let them vote.

Obama administration to test Pell Grants for prisoners Mon, 03 Aug 2015 15:21:14 +0000 On Friday, the Obama administration announced that it will experiment with allowing some prisoners to receive Pell Grants from a select number of colleges, the Washington Post reports. The Second Chance Pell Pilot will allow inmates with less than five years left on their sentences to work toward a college degree while incarcerated, improving both their mental wellbeing while behind bars and their job prospects once released.

According to a 2013 study commissioned by the Department of Justice, inmates who participated in educational programs were 43 percent less likely to return to prison and 13 percent more likely to land a job after completing their sentence.

Prisoners have been ineligible for Pell Grants since 1994, when they fell victim to President Clinton’s “Tough on Crime” initiative. The Pell Pilot comes in the wake of other marginal changes from the Obama administration — some aesthetic, some tangible — that signal a broader shift in criminal justice policy.

The experiment aims to show that allowing inmates to have access to an education while incarcerated will reduce recidivism and save the government money in the long run, as ex-felons with college degrees are far less likely to commit additional crimes.

criminal prison orange jumpsuit jail prisoner convict

Criminal via Shutterstock

This principle guides the criminal justice system in many European countries, which have far lower rates of recidivism than the United States. Perhaps most notably, Oslo University announced earlier this year that Anders Breivik, the mass murderer who killed 77 in a bombing and shooting attack four years ago, had been accepted into its Political Science program. While many were shocked that Breivik was allowed to be admitted, especially given his noted lack of remorse for his crimes, the university said in a statement that they remained committed to admitting anyone who met their academic standards — including prisoners.

Breivik will complete all of his coursework in solitary confinement.

The administration’s proposal was met with a predictable response from Republicans in Congress, who are pushing the “Kids Before Cons Act” in an attempt to block the Pell Pilot. Contrary to what the title of the bill suggests, the Pell Pilot doesn’t touch existing Pell funding for the non-prison population. It is a small amount of separate funding that should pay for itself over time.

This being the case, the only reason to oppose the program is to intentionally make life worse than it needs to be for felons behind bars. Not only is that morally questionable, especially given the fact that only about half of our current prison population is incarcerated for violent offenses, but we know on an empirical level that it is counterproductive in the long run. We can’t act surprised at high levels of crime in our ex-felon population if we continue to dehumanize prisoners while they’re behind bars.

Pell Grants for prisoners make ethical, economic and budgetary sense. We never should have stopped making them available.

President Obama unveils sweeping emissions reduction plan Mon, 03 Aug 2015 14:27:19 +0000 Earlier today, President Obama unveiled his Clean Power Plan, a set of rules for states that, taken together, will lead to a reduction in fossil fuel emissions from power plants of 32 percent compared to their 2005 level by the year 2030.

The rules are a step beyond the original version of the plan, which was put forward last year and then revised. They set individual carbon reduction goals for each state, which can be achieved through a variety of options that include increased renewables, greater efficiency or simply building fewer coal-fired plants.

As the Washington Post notes, many of these reductions are already taking place; the Clean Power Plan simply builds on them and moves them along faster. While going further than originally proposed, the plan is also more flexible, taking criticisms of the original proposal into account. From the Post:

Many states will face tougher requirements for lowering greenhouse-gas emissions under the revised plan. But state governments also will be given more time to meet their targets and considerably more flexibility in how they achieve their pollution-cutting goals, according to two senior officials knowledgeable about the rule. For the first time, the officials said, the plan also includes a “reliability safety valve” that can buy states additional time if needed to avoid disruptions in the power supply.

The program also includes a provision that will incentivize earlier deployment of renewable energy, such as solar and wind, as opposed to natural gas, avoiding an “early rush to gas,” as the administration calls it.

Global climate change, via Creative Commons

Global climate change, via Creative Commons

The program makes good on the administration’s pledge to the United Nations to curb emissions by between 26 and 28 percent under 2005 levels by 2025, with emissions projected to be lowered 27 percent by the year 2020.

The moves available to President Obama to curb greenhouse gas emissions are, for all intents and purposes, limited to the EPA given the state of gridlock in Congress, which couldn’t pass cap-and-trade — to say nothing of a carbon tax — during his first two years with majorities in both houses.

In any case, this move marks the biggest step taken by the American government to push back against climate change. To be clear, it probably isn’t enough to save Miami, but it’s a lot — progress on which another president committed to acting on climate could build.

Of course, that would require a president committed to acting on climate. Welp, nevermind.

It’s time to revoke the Boy Scouts’ congressional charter Mon, 03 Aug 2015 14:00:43 +0000 Last week, the Boy Scouts of America announced that they would allow gay troop leaders, following up on their previous decision to accept gay scouts. It was a major victory for the LGBT community, the culmination years of advocacy that sends a message to millions of children that being gay isn’t a valid reason to exclude someone from a group.

It’s a fantastic development. However, as Rachel Witkin at The New Civil Rights Movement pointed out, last week’s victory is incomplete. And as numerous other observers pointed out when the organization decided to allow gay scouts, that victory was similarly incomplete. While becoming more (if not completely) LGBT inclusive is a major step forward, the Boy Scouts still remain officially off-limits to America’s fastest-growing cultural minority: The Boy Scouts still bans nonbelievers.

As the Scouts’ membership application reads, in an excerpt from its Declaration of Religious Principle that, ironically, appears directly above its non-discrimination clause:

The Boy Scouts of America maintains that no member can grow into the best kind of citizen without recognizing an obligation to God and, therefore, recognizes the religious element in the training of the member, but it is absolutely nonsectarian in its attitude toward that religious training. Its policy is that the home and organization or group with which the member is connected shall give definite attention to religious life. Only persons willing to subscribe to these precepts of the Declaration of Religious Principle and to the Bylaws and codes of the Boy Scouts of America shall be entitled to certificates of membership.

The Scout Oath of Promise, also included on the application, outlines “duty to God” as the first commitment of being a scout — ahead of duty to country and obedience to Scout Law, the twelfth point of which further defines a scout as: “Reverent. A Scout is reverent toward God. He is faithful in his religious duties. He respects the beliefs of others.”

Over 70 percent of Boy Scout troops are chartered by religious organizations, with a clear plurality of organizations and overall membership associated with the Mormon Church (which threatened to leave the organization following the vote to allow gay troop leaders). Atheist scouts have also been expelled from the organization — in at least one case after having already received Eagle Scout honors — over their refusal to acknowledge the existence of a supreme being.

By establishing themselves as non-sectarian, the Boy Scouts avoid charges of inter-religious discrimination, which the public commonly understands to be the only kind of religious discrimination. This qualification is made explicit in the Program Policies section of the application, which clarifies that “members who do not belong to a unit’s religious chartered organization shall not be required to participate in its religious activities.” So long, of course, as members are religious to begin with. After all, they declared their faith when they applied for membership.

George Bush addresses the Boy Scouts' National Jamboree in 2005, via Wikimedia Commons

George Bush addresses the Boy Scouts’ National Jamboree, via Wikimedia Commons

Under this policy, a Jewish child can join a Mormon troop and be exempted from participating in scout activities that are specific to the Mormon faith, but an atheist child can’t join any troop at all. The implication is that because the organization allows Christians and Jews and Muslims, and doesn’t force any of them to take part in any specific religious activity (so long as they all are in some way religious), it isn’t discriminating on the basis of religious belief. Defining unbelievers as un-American somehow doesn’t count.

If the Scouts were a completely private organization, its insistence that good citizenship requires religious belief and practice would be perfectly kosher. However, as the Freedom From Religion Foundation pointed out in a statement following the Scouts’ decision to accept gay troop leaders, the Scouts hold a congressional charter as a “Title 36″ civic group, and that’s a problem. Title 36 groups are a list of “patriotic and national organizations,” which enjoy both government recognition and exemption from certain business regulations. By conferring this status on an explicitly religious organization, the government has given the them privileges they do not deserve — the Scouts originally sought their charter in the early 1900s as protection from antitrust laws — endorsing the establishment of religion when it clearly shouldn’t.

Other organizations that hold similar Title 36 charters include the Girls Scouts of America (which remains officially religious, but amended its policies in 1993 to allow non-believers), Little League Baseball, Big Brother Big Sister, American Legion and the National Academy of Sciences.

If the Scouts insist — as they do — that non-believers cannot be model American citizens, then they should have this charter revoked. They can discriminate against non-believers, or they can have federal recognition and privilege, but it’s time for them to choose.

To be clear, the Boy Scouts aren’t the only religious organization with a Title 36 charter. For instance, the Jewish War Veterans of America holds a similar status, going beyond the Boy Scouts’ religious requirement to specify a particular religious affiliation for membership. The Military Chaplains Organization also holds a Title 36 charter, despite James Madison’s adamant assertion that religious leaders had no place in the American military. So it would seem that revoking the Boy Scouts’ charter would require revoking a host of similar charters, setting off a legal fight with a host of interest groups that the public holds in high esteem. After all, that’s why they were given civic group charters in the first place.

However, the Boy Scouts are the only organization with a Title 36 charter that describes religious affiliation as being part and parcel with desirable American citizenship. The Jewish War Veterans of America makes no such claim. Furthermore, the Boy Scouts of America is a national institution in a way that The Jewish War Veterans of America simply isn’t, directly involving itself in the lives of millions of children and teenagers every year. For the government to endorse an organization that not only tells children that non-believers are by definition less American than they are, but makes an affirmation of that principle a requirement for membership, is unacceptable.

Part of me wants to argue that the Scouts should change, that they should accept non-believers into their ranks as they recently accepted gay scouts and troop leaders. But another part of me thinks that such a shift can only be made in bad faith. The scouts are excluding nonbelievers for a different, more fundamental reason than they excluded gays, making acceptance both less likely for them and less desirable for me.

The arguments the Scouts raised against gay members were based in empirical claims, namely that gay people are pedophiles, that could be clearly demonstrated as hateful and false. And once enough people got together to point out that maintaining by-laws based on baseless, hateful claims was, well, baseless and hateful, the case was more or less settled.

But the Boy Scouts’ argument against admitting non-believers is a metaphysical one, namely that you can’t be moral without belief in God. Scout Law didn’t specify being straight; it does specify being religious. Therefore, calling on the Scouts to admit non-believers would entail more than having them admit they were wrong, and it would require them to change more than their by-laws; it would require them to change a fundamental aspect of their identity as an organization. They would have to redefine the kind of person they say scouts should aspire to be.

The Scouts could accept gay scouts and still be the Scouts. The Scouts might not be able to accept non-believing scouts and still be the Scouts. This may be one of the reasons, among others, why the Human Rights Campaign — with its Religion and Faith Program — declined to push for the organization to allow non-believers, even as it campaigned for the inclusion of gays.

So no, I don’t think the Boy Scouts should remove the religious test from their membership requirements if they don’t want to remove it on their own. If they insist on remaining a religious organization that’s their prerogative, and I wouldn’t have them any more than they would have me.

But if that’s how it’s going to be, then they can’t have our government, either.

President Huckabee would literally wage war on women who seek abortions Mon, 03 Aug 2015 12:00:03 +0000 For years now, Republicans have bristled at claims that they’re waging a “war on women.” It’s unfair, they say, that Democrats have described their attempts at mandating invasive trans-vaginal ultrasounds, opposition to equal pay, questioning of the legitimacy of rapes, etc. as a “war.” To them, that isn’t a “war,” that’s “family values.”

But on Friday, Mike Huckabee dropped any semblance of euphemism, ratcheting up the war to explicitly militaristic terms. From the Topeka Capital Journal:

In response to a question from the audience at the Pizza Ranch in Jefferson, Iowa, Huckabee said he would “invoke the Fifth and 14th Amendments for the protection of every human being.”

Both amendments contain due process protections against depriving people of life without due process of law.

“Would that be a huge controversy?” the former Arkansas governor asked. “Yes.”

But he argued that scientific advancements have now verified that unborn babies are human beings — information he said wasn’t necessarily available when the Supreme Court issued its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.

“I will not pretend there is nothing we can do to stop this,” Huckabee said at the event, where a Topeka Capital-Journal correspondent was present.

At his next stop, in Rockwell City, Huckabee answered follow-up questions from the correspondent, saying: “All American citizens should be protected.”

Asked by another reporter how he would stop abortion, and whether this would mean using the FBI or federal forces to accomplish this, Huckabee replied: “We’ll see, if I get to be president.”

Huckabee’s comments were a followup his previous day’s comparison between abortion and Benghazi, which he made because he’s only got a few days left to qualify for the debate on Thursday, and because of course he did:

That right there is a Republican candidate for president of the United States proposing to put armed guards in women’s uteri with a shoot to kill order for any doctors who dare attempt to terminate pregnancies at the request of the women in question. That would be, by definition, a war on women and their reproductive rights.

Mike Huckabee, via Wikimedia Commons

Mike Huckabee, via Wikimedia Commons

To be clear, Huckabee is saying these kinds of ridiculously offensive things because he’s desperate for attention. And his comments are coming in the context of a broader campaign Republicans are currently waging against Planned Parenthood and broader abortion rights — a campaign based on doctored evidence and patently false claims about where federal funds are currently being appropriated.

But with Donald Trump sucking up so much news coverage, the bar for getting the media’s — and Republican primary voters’ — attention has been raised. Raised to the point at which Mike Huckabee feels the need to compare Obama to Hitler and not-so-subtlely condone violence against abortion providers.

Raised past the point at which the Republican Party can rebrand itself back to respectability.

Palestinian toddler dies in “price tag” fire set by Jewish extremists Fri, 31 Jul 2015 16:32:26 +0000 Four Jewish settlers set fire to two Palestinian homes last night, killing an 18 month old child and injuring four others, The Washington Post reports:

The arson assault was quickly labeled a “price tag attack” in the Israeli media — a phrase used to describe violence and vandalism carried out by settlers and their supporters to extract “a price” for any actions against them, either by the Israeli government or Palestinians…

…Palestinian authorities said the attackers came to the village of Duma, a 20-minute drive northeast of Ramallah, smashed windows and tossed firebombs inside the Palestinian homes as the residents slept.

The actions that led to the “price” to be exacted in this case appear to be the Israeli government’s attempt to demolish the Beit El community, an illegal settlement being built on private Palestinian land. Settlers didn’t have permits to build on the land because, again, it isn’t theirs.

While the Israeli government condemned the arson as an act of terrorism, Palestinians cited statements and actions from the government earlier in the week as incitement that helped spur the incident. Members of the right-wing governing majority had demanded that construction of Beit El continue unimpeded, with Education Minister Naftali Bennet visiting the site and saying that “The answer to Palestinian terror is settlement, not cowardice.”

It appeared as though, at the end of the day, the government agreed with him. Again from the Post:

The two half-completed apartment houses were bulldozed on Wednesday. Immediately after, Netanyahu announced that the state would green light the construction of an additional 300 housing units at the site, mollifying critics.

Given settlers’ subsequent actions, that would seem to be a pretty generous use of the word “mollifying.”

Jewish settlers teaching their kids how to use high-powered weapons, via Bird Eye / Flickr

Jewish settlers teaching their kids how to use high-powered weapons, via Bird Eye / Flickr

One would think that when the government’s response to its bulldozing of a housing complex is to authorize the building of a bigger housing complex, that would suppress any impulse on the part of the settlers to exact a “price” against the Palestinians for what they feel are the transgressions of their government. After all, they’re getting what they want, and then some, in spite of the law and their government and the international community and basic human decency. But that’s not the case. Apparently, in the minds of the settlers, every time the Israeli government does anything that remotely resembles recognizing Palestinian property rights a few Palestinians deserve to die.

And while the Israeli government makes a point to make all of the necessary condemnations following attacks like these, Palestinian leaders pointed out following yesterday’s arson attacks that they almost never follow through to secure justice for their victims. What’s more, the Israeli military has already killed 17 Palestinians in the West Bank so far this year.

This is what happens when religion is strong.

When Islamic extremists do awful things in the name of Islam, there’s an impulse within the American left to contextualize their violence. It isn’t about a particular interpretation of Islam; it’s about Western hegemony and historical power structures that make violence in the name of Islam an identity-based reaction, not a religiously-based offense. But attacks from Jewish extremists in Israel — be they yesterday’s arson in the West Bank or yesterday’s stabbings at Jerusalem pride — show that when it comes to religious violence, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

Jewish extremists’ actions this week provide a stark reminder for what happens when literal, outdated interpretations of religious texts are placed at the top of the cultural hierarchy, privileged by the government and tacitly endorsed by secular democracies around the world. If anyone can find a better way to explain these attacks other than people taking the purported word of God at face value, I’m all ears.

Republicans threatening to shut down government over doctored Planned Parenthood videos Fri, 31 Jul 2015 15:07:49 +0000 Riding a nonexistent wave of public outrage over videos that have been edited to appear to show Planned Parenthood employees discussing how to profit from abortion procedures, Republicans in Congress are aggressively pushing for all federal funding to be pulled from the organization.

And they want Congress to do “everything within its power” to make it happen, including blocking all appropriations and omnibus bills until they have gotten what they want, shutting down the government if necessary.

Of course, defunding Planned Parenthood isn’t as easy as cutting a line from a spending bill. The funding it receives from the federal government comes almost entirely in the form of Medicaid reimbursements that they receive for providing preventative care, i.e. not abortions. So when Republicans say, as John McCain did yesterday, that it’s deeply concerning for the federal government to be financing the fetal tissue donation discussed in the sting videos, he’s deliberately misleading the public. The government already doesn’t fund it.

Also, as Wonkette reminded us today, John McCain and Mitch McConnell — along with 91 other senators — voted to legalize fetal tissue donation research in 1993. So it’s particularly rich for them to be performing outrage over the practice today.

Planned Parenthood, via Fibonacci Blue / Flickr

Planned Parenthood, via Fibonacci Blue / Flickr

But never mind that. A vote has been scheduled for next week on a bill that would cut all federal funds from Planned Parenthood. That vote will fail. Republicans will be honor-bound to continue their quixotic freakout. More votes will be forced. They will all fail. Uber-conservative Republicans — some of whom aren’t even in Congress — will write impassioned emails to their constituents asking them to send $5 to help them continue the fight for the unborn. Many people will send $5. Republicans will keep fighting. And so on.

In other words, get ready for another shutdown fight over a non-issue in what was supposed to be a congressional session in which Republicans proved that they could govern like big kids.

As I wrote when the first Planned Parenthood sting video was released, it’s fairly obvious that Congressional Republicans have coordinated their efforts around the release of the videos to score as many political points as they can. But given how clearly doomed this push to defund the organization is, and how few political points they have scored — the public still opposes pulling federal funding from Planned Parenthood by a wide margin — it’s clear that this is a fundraising issue for the Republicans and nothing more.

But they’re going to play around with the government’s basic functions for a while before they’re done. Because that’s how the big kids govern.

UPDATE: Rand Paul is making a big fundraising push over the defund vote:

A $15 minimum wage for fast food workers would raise the price of a Big Mac by 17 cents Thu, 30 Jul 2015 18:52:19 +0000 The conservative warning that minimum wages are guaranteed to destroy consumer purchasing power by forcing businesses to raise prices doesn’t hold up under academic scrutiny, according to a new study from Purdue’sSchool of Hospitality and Tourism Management.

Per the study, raising the minimum wage for fast-food workers to $15 would cause a small but incredibly modest uptick in prices — an increase that would be more than offset by the increase in disposable income that workers would have.

From The Washington Post‘s write-up of the study:

[Researcher Richard] Ghiselli used data from both the National Restaurant Association and Deloitte & Touche to estimate how much fast food companies would need to boost sales given varying changes in the minimum wage. Assuming the industry maintained its current profit margin of 6.3 percent — which, to be fair, is fairly slim — hiking the pay floor at fast food restaurants to $15 an hour would mean just a 4.3 percent increase in prices.

If that increase were applied universally across McDonald’s menu, the price of a Big Mac would go up by a whopping…17 cents.

The effects of a $15 minimum wage would, of course, vary by location, as wages are typically higher in major metropolitan areas than they are in smaller towns. The paper estimated the average price increase based on the current median wage in the fast food sector ($10.64 per hour), but obviously a store currently paying its workers an average of $9 per hour would raise prices more than a store that pays $12 per hour to respond to a $15 minimum wage.

Burger and fries via Shutterstock

Burger and fries via Shutterstock

Either way, the data suggest that businesses would be able to handle a significant minimum wage increase without being forced to raise prices to uncompetitive levels. What’s more, the claim that employers would respond to a higher minimum wage not with price increases, but with employment cuts, is tenuous at best. Businesses require a certain number of employees to operate, making it more difficult to adjust employment than it is to adjust prices in response to changes in wage laws.

As I’ve written before, the case for raising the minimum wage for fast food workers instead of everyone is political and economic at the expense of moral. If McDonald’s workers are entitled to a living wage, why aren’t workers at Gap? That said, the fast food sector employes roughly half of our country’s minimum wage workers, suggesting that the biggest area of opportunity for wage growth — short of congressional action that will never happen — is in the fast food sector on the state and local level.

And the economic arguments against doing so are becoming less compelling by the day.

Repeat offender suspected in ultra-Orthodox stabbing at Jerusalem pride parade Thu, 30 Jul 2015 18:00:16 +0000 Six people were stabbed at a gay pride parade in Jerusalem earlier today in what appears to be a religiously-motivated attack from a repeat offender.

Israeli police have taken Yishai Shilissel into custody following the attack. Shilissel was released from prison three weeks ago after serving ten years of a twelve year sentence for stabbing gay pride marchers in 2005.

Shilissel had reportedly circulated a threatening letter on Twitter before the march, and had distributed handwritten notes to his neighbors calling on “all Jews faithful to God” to risk “beatings and imprisonment” in order to prevent the parade from taking place. This, combined with frequent ultra-Orthodox protests at gay pride marches, led many to wonder why there wasn’t a greater police presence at the parade to protect marchers. As Aaron Ben-Zev, who attended the march, said to Buzzfeed:

Jerusalem Pride, via Wikimedia Commons

Jerusalem Pride, via Wikimedia Commons

Where were the police? Of course, we won’t let this stop us from marching, but we have to ask, where were the police? Especially when they know the ultra-Orthodox have threatened us in the past…

…I could hear them screaming stuff at us about how we were animals, how god would punish us. I don’t understand how they are allowed to carry on with that kind of incitement.

Police had granted a permit for 30 religious activists to protest the parade today. It is unclear if Shilissel was originally part of that protest, or if he went to the parade on his own.

As Haaretz reported, Shilissel was not tracked following his release, despite the clear danger he posed to Israel’s LGBT community, due to what appears to be a bureaucratic and geographic loophole:

The Judea and Samaria Police District said after the attack that they were not supposed to track Schlissel after his release, even though he resides in their jurisdiction, because his crime was perpetrated in the Jerusalem district.

Israeli politicians on the right were quick to condemn the attack, with Minister Naftali Bennet, head of the nationalist Habayit Hayehudi Party party saying in a statement:

Whoever did it harmed Jewish and moral values, and must be punished with the utmost severity. When events are clarified Israeli society must do some soul searching to understand how it has come to this.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has also condemned the attacks, but, unlike opposition leader Isaac Herzog, didn’t explicitly call them a hate crime.

Of the six victims, one woman is in critical condition and two men were moderately wounded. Two men and one woman suffered what are being described as light wounds.

Colorado GOP walks back State Rep. Klingenschmitt’s hate speech on Boy Scouts, not on trans military service Thu, 30 Jul 2015 16:17:40 +0000 On Tuesday, Colorado State Representative Gordon Klingenschmitt took to YouTube to discuss the military and the Boy Scouts. Namely, the ending of the bans on transgender servicemembers and gay scout leaders. He was quite distressed:

There’s a lot of nasty, vile stuff in there. Klingenschmitt, who was previously best-known for comparing President Obama to a demon, repeatedly denies the existence of transgenderism; calls transgender servicemembers sick, confused and possessed; and cites my least favorite Bible verse to argue that transgender servicemembers should be kicked out of the military.

But that’s not what got him into trouble. Only when Klingenschmitt turned his attention to the Boy Scouts of America’s decision to lift their ban on gay troop leaders did he draw the attention of the Colorado Republican Party. As Klingenschmitt said:

Rep. Gordon Klingenschmitt, screenshot via YouTube

Rep. Gordon Klingenschmitt, screenshot via YouTube

What they’re going to do is promote homosexual men to mentoring and camping with your boys in the woods, and it will lead to child abuse. The children are in danger…

…”Whoever causes one of those little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea.” This is what Jesus said about child molesters. If you’re going to cause a child to sin, it’d be better if you just had a millstone hung around you neck and you were drowned.

Klingenschmitt was alluding to the same tired, hateful trope that put Scott Walker in hot water recently — that gay men are predators who want to molest your kids.

Yesterday, the Colorado Republican Party condemned Klingenschmitt’s comments concerning the Boy Scouts, saying in a statement: “We strongly condemn Gordon Klingenschmitt’s highly offensive comments. As we’ve said in the past, Gordon does not speak on behalf of the Party, nor do his words reflect our Party’s values.”

That they have to remind readers that they’ve been forced to distance themselves from Klingenschmitt before is particularly telling. Not as telling, however, as the fact that the party only felt compelled to distance themselves from one half of Klingenschmitt’s hate speech.

After all, Klingenschmitt called transgender people predators in the video right along with gay men, calling on viewers to oppose ENDA because it was a “bathroom bill” in disguise that would allow men into women’s bathrooms to assault women and children. There no difference between that accusation of pedophilia and the one against gay troop leaders, so why was Klingenschmitt condemned by his party for one and not the other?

Calling groups people pedophiles with zero evidence is worthy of condemnation, regardless of the group of people in question. That the Colorado Republican Party felt obligated to defend gay troop leaders but not transgender servicemembers shows that their obligation was political, not moral.

I’m not impressed.

Which Republican candidates have the smartest, dumbest and most devoted commenters? Thu, 30 Jul 2015 15:18:40 +0000 Especially in a primary campaign, there are a lot of different ways to measure public opinion. There’s money, of course, which while being an inaccurate measure of support remains the clearest indicator of campaign viability. There’s public opinion polling, which is useful if you want to know who would win if the election were held today but not very useful if you want to know who is likely to win the election months down the road. There are endorsements, an elite measure of public opinion that is both a lagging and leading indicator of candidate performance — elected officials endorse candidates they think will win, and then they help them win.

But what about online discourse? Until recently, it’s been difficult to measure, but research released today gives us some hints as to which candidates are loved, hated, talked about the most and relatively unknown.

Researchers used a tool they call Diffbot to collect data on over 300 million comments between July 1st and 20th on articles mentioning Republican primary candidates, analyzing them for length, affect, reading level and so on. From there, they were able to draw inferences as to which candidates have the most support, which have the most devoted followings and whose commenters may have skipped 9th grade English class.

Computer via Shutterstock

Computer via Shutterstock

The candidates with the most overall mentions in comments were, in order, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush, Scott Walker and Donald Trump. Anecdotally, Paul’s high rank on this metric makes sense; readers of this site can attest to what seems like a rapid-response team of libertarians who are ready to pounce on any article that mentions him in either a positive or negative light. So just because Paul generates a lot of chatter doesn’t mean he has the most support; his high volume of comments could easily be coming from a relatively small population of commenters.

To go along with comment volume, Diffbot also measured comment length, which can be used as a proxy for how passionate commenters are. On this metric, Mike Huckabee, Marco Rubio and Chris Christie came in with the highest ranking. One could venture a number of guesses as to why comments mentioning these candidates were as high as they were: Rubio has a complicated record that his supporters may feel the need to defend at length. Christie could be the subject of angry tirades from New Jersey voters who can’t believe he’s running in the first place. Mike Huckabee’s supporters could be quoting Scripture at length. And so on.

Carly Fiorina comes in fourth in average comment length, but first in comment affect. Of course, that would matter much more if she didn’t come in last in comment volume. Very few people are talking about Carly Fiorina, but the few people who are seem to be wondering why more people aren’t. Bobby Jindal and Lindsey Graham rate the next highest on net support/opposition in comments that mention them, suggesting that commenters don’t find the need to punch down against lesser-known candidates.

However, once a candidate gets high enough in the polls, their detractors start to take notice. Ted Cruz, Chris Christie, Jeb Bush and Donald Trump — in that order — came in with the most negative average comment. These candidates have been getting lots of coverage on liberal sites (like this one), and Christie, Bush and Trump all have reasons for hard-line conservatives to react negatively to them, as well.

Perhaps the most interesting finding, however, is the relative reading level of comments mentioning each of the candidates, with Christie, Fiorina, Huckabee, Rubio and Rick Santorum having average comments at a ninth grade reading level; and with Ben Carson, Cruz, Paul and Trump having commenters at the seventh grade level. Some of the pattern here could be explained by the sites on which the candidates are being written about; Christie and Fiorina, for example, get more regional coverage with more highly-educated, niche audiences in New Jersey and California. However, especially at the bottom of the list, the commenter reading level lines up with what we already understood on an anecdotal level. The dumbest political conversations on the Internet right now are conversations about Donald Trump.

You can see the full report for yourself here.

Wheaton College drops student health insurance over objection to objection requirement Wed, 29 Jul 2015 22:00:48 +0000 Wheaton College, a Christian school in Illinois, announced earlier this month that it will not be renewing the health insurance plans it provides for its students. The school will continue providing health insurance for its faculty and staff.

According to the school, the Department of Health and Human Services’s new rules that work around the specific religious exemptions outlined in the Hobby Lobby ruling are a violation of their sincerely held religious belief that taking part in any action that in any way can lead to a woman having access to birth control is a sin.

Those rules, issued earlier this month, state that if a religious institution objects to paying for a health insurance plan that covers contraception, they don’t have to pay for a health insurance plan that covers contraception. What they do have to do is officially declare their religious objection, after which the government can direct the insurance company to provide birth control through a separate plan. Since birth control is at most cost-neutral from an insurance perspective — women on birth control don’t carry the much higher costs associated with, well, birth — the government isn’t imposing any costs on anyone, especially not the employer — in this case Wheaton. It is simply separating birth control coverage from other health insurance coverage, and requiring religious institutions to pay only for the non-birth control part.

Even this was a bridge too far for the religious school. As TalkingPointsMemo explains:

IUD, via Shutterstock

IUD, via Shutterstock

The school terminated its plan not due to the fact that it was being forced to pay for contraceptive coverage — it is not — but that it is in a legal battle over whether it should even have to notify the government that it is seeking a religious exemption to providing contraceptive coverage. The current policy for religious non-profits gives them an exemption, at which point the government directs insurers to provide birth control coverage through a separate policy not paid for by the non-profit.

Wheaton contends that even the act of notifying the government of its religious opposition to birth control coverage makes it complicit in providing birth control. A federal appeals court has rejected Wheaton’s contention, so rather than comply with the requirement that it notify the feds, Wheaton is ending all health coverage for students.

For Wheaton, if their students have access to birth control, they are complicit in providing that coverage, even if their only role in the process is declaring that they object to said coverage.

As appeals court Justice Richard Posner (remember him?) wrote when denying Wheaton’s appeal, that argument doesn’t make any sense: “Wheaton College does not want to be involved in the provision of emergency contraceptives; pursuant to its wishes, it no longer is involved.”

And now its students will have to get their health insurance elsewhere. Because principles and Jesus.

Donald Trump will repeal Obamacare and replace it with the classiest, most terrific health insurance plan ever Wed, 29 Jul 2015 21:11:15 +0000 Donald “Can’t Rape Your Spouse” Trump has built an entire campaign on taking core planks on the Republican platform and making them classier. And by classier, of course, I mean more explicit, more ironic and with the bigotry more clearly articulated.

Mass deportation of undocumented immigrants? Sure, but let’s not forget that Mexicans are, in general, rapists. And murderers.

Traditional one man/one woman marriage? Sure, but let’s not forget that I’ve been married three times and see nothing ironic about this, at all.

President Obama isn’t doing enough to fight the Islamic State? Sure, and let’s not forget that I have a secret plan to fight them. It’s massive. It’s brilliant. And I won’t tell you what it is until after I’m elected.

So it should have come as no surprise that Donald Trump’s health care agenda is pretty much the same as the rest of the Republican field’s, but with a little more flair:

Something terrific. Great. How had no one thought of that before?

Of course, where Trump may break with his Republican opponents is that, for him, “something terrific” may actually be more progressive than the health insurance law he says he wants to repeal and replace. As PolitiFact pointed out last week:

The billionaire’s 2000 book The America We Deserve makes a strong pitch for universal health care.

“I’m a conservative on most issues but a liberal on this one,” Trump wrote. “We should not hear so many stories of families ruined by health care expenses. We must not allow citizens with medical problems to go untreated because of financial problems or red tape.”

When he turned to how the country might achieve universal coverage, Trump focused like a laser beam on a Canadian-style, single-payer plan. He said it would eliminate many billions of dollars of overhead.

“The Canadian plan also helps Canadians live longer and healthier than America,” he wrote. “We need, as a nation, to reexamine the single-payer plan, as many individual states are doing.”

It remains to be seen if the rest of the Republican candidates are able to break through the ahistorical bubble Trump has created and call him out for the Marxist, Stalinist, fascist that they’re supposed to think he is now. But I rather doubt it.

Indictment of Cincinnati campus police officer in Samuel Dubose shooting shows promise of broader reform Wed, 29 Jul 2015 20:05:33 +0000 University of Cincinnati police officer Ray Tensing was indicted earlier today for murder and voluntary manslaughter. Tensing shot Samuel Dubose, a 43 year-old, unarmed black man, in a routine traffic stop earlier this month. He has also been fired from the University of Cincinnati’s police force.

From VICE News:

Hamilton County prosecutor Joe Deters announced felony murder charges against officer Ray Tensing at a press conference on Wednesday. “I’ve been doing this for over 30 years,” Deters said. “This is the most asinine act I’ve ever seen a police officer make. Totally unwarranted… It’s an absolute tragedy and that in the year 2015 that anyone would behave in this manner. It was senseless… Its just horrible.”

The indictment came following the release of video from the body camera Tensing was wearing during the incident. While Tensing had claimed that he shot Dubose because he was being “dragged” by Dubose’s car as he attempted to speed away, the video shows that Tensing shot Dubose with no provocation whatsoever.

Here is the video from Tensing’s body camera (warning: graphic):

As the video shows, Tensing pulled Dubose over for failing to have his front license plate properly displayed. He repeatedly asks Dubose for his license, to which Dubose replies that he doesn’t have it in his possession, but that he is a licensed driver and Tensing can look him up. After repeating his request, Tensing asks Dubose to take his seatbelt off, Dubose says that he hasn’t done anything wrong and turns toward Tensing, and Tensing suddenly draws his gun and shoots Dubose in the head. Only then does Dubose’s car speed away from Tensing, as he is lying dead in the front seat without the emergency brake engaged.

Don't Shoot, via Mike Licht / Flickr

Don’t Shoot, via Mike Licht / Flickr

As Hamilton County prosecutor Joe Denton remarked in the press conference following the indictment: “When you see [the video] you will not believe how quickly he pulls his gun and shoots him in the head. It’s maybe a second. It’s incredible. So senseless. I feel so sorry for his family and I feel sorry for the community… This should not have happened.”

Dubose’s death raises a number of questions, not the least of which is why the University of Cincinnati arms its police officers with deadly weapons in the first place. Going beyond that, however, it shows that while institutional reforms can’t prevent racism from manifesting itself in the worst ways, they can make justice more likely.

It is not only possible but likely that without video evidence of the shooting Ray Tensing would not have been indicted. Grand juries almost never indict police officers, and without video evidence directly contradicting his claim of self defense, they would likely have taken him at his word. Furthermore, the speed with which the indictment was handed down shows what was made apparent in the non-indictment of Darren Wilson, the officer who shot Michael Brown: a prosecutor can indict a ham sandwich if they feel like it. If they don’t, as is often the case concerning allegations of police brutality, they can and do avoid bringing charges.

When the system isn’t bending over backwards to let violent police officers off the hook, they stand a chance of being held accountable for their actions.

Tensing is scheduled to appear in court tomorrow to begin his trial.

You are problematic Wed, 29 Jul 2015 17:54:52 +0000 Whether you are a person of advanced age, a person experiencing poverty, a person of size or even a person of material wealth, there’s no escaping it: You are problematic.

At least, that’s the upshot of a newly-released Bias-Free Language Guide for the University of New Hampshire. As noted in the document, practically every one-word adjective that can be used to describe another person is in some way demeaning to that person. So if you’ve ever described someone as senior, poor, obese, or rich, among many other commonly-used and generally accepted terms, congratulations: you are some combination of ignorant and offensive, and you should probably be ashamed of yourself.

As New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait writes:

As the document assures its readers, it “is not meant to represent absolute requirements of language use.” (Universities have tried imposing absolute requirements of language use, only to be struck down on First Amendment grounds.) So the guide should be understood not as an attempt at censorship, which would be illegal, but as a cutting-edge statement of p.c. language norms.

However, the document is itself contradictory, justifying some language as preferred for the same reasons it calls other language problematic. It advises that “senior” is problematic but “old” is preferred because, “Old people has been reclaimed by some older activists who believe the standard wording of old people lacks the stigma of the term ‘advanced age’. Old people also halts the euphemizing of age. Euphemizing automatically positions age as a negative.”

But if that’s the case, and euphemizing language is itself problematic, then isn’t a lot of preferred language on the list problematic? If I insist on saying “people of size” instead of “obese” because the latter is a “medicalized” way of describing people who have a higher Body Mass Index than people in the medical profession say is healthy, how am I not euphemizing obesity, positioning it as a negative?

Censorship, via Wikimedia Commons

Censorship, via Wikimedia Commons

Or take the replacement of “rich” with “person of material wealth.” Much of the discourse on language circles back to calling people what they want to be called, with special consideration taken when there’s a power structure at play that puts the group in question at a disadvantage. If wealthy people — sorry, people of material wealth — are perfectly fine describing themselves as rich, and they face no disadvantage for being called rich, why is it necessary to go out of our way to add seven syllables to every sentence that references them?

My favorite example, which I was glad to not see in the guide, is the replacement of “women” with “utero-Americans,” which, as UNH’s language guide would note, is problematic due to its nationalization of the female gender. However, while in college I was informed — while making a pro-choice argument! — that using “women” was problematic because some men have uteri and can therefore have abortions. By limiting the abortion-seeking population to women, I was excluding the rest of the utero-American population. What’s more, my microaggression was a bigger deal, more worthy of being called down, than the denial of women’s everyone’s right to choose in the first place.

To be clear, the guide isn’t all bad. A lot of its language recommendations do make sense. Replacing “sexual preference” with “sexual orientation,” for example, is useful in that it avoids the implication of choice. Using specific countries instead of calling people “African” or “South American” is useful as a reminder that Africa and South America aren’t countries. Our language still contains a number of colloquialisms and other norms that misclassify, stigmatize and otherwise degrade people of various races, ethnicities, religions, cultures, genders and so on.

But at some point, there are lines — however fine — between inclusivity, accuracy and convenience. As UNH’s guide notes in its introduction, language matters; it shapes how we think and what we think about. But the only way to correctly follow UNH’s language guide is to spend so much time thinking about your language that you never get around to using it.

As Chait concludes: “A UNH student or faculty member determined to avoid any linguistic missteps would have to pore over the list of terminology until they go blind become visually impaired.”

Oklahoma Supreme Court refuses to re-hear Ten Commandments case, monument must be removed Wed, 29 Jul 2015 16:22:38 +0000 Earlier this month, Oklahoma’s Supreme Court ruled that a monument to the Ten Commandments that was standing on the grounds of the state capitol was a complete defenestration of the First Amendment and needed to be removed (duh). Rather than take the court’s ruling as being, well, a rule that she had to follow, Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin declared that the monument would stay up. This was legal, she said, because the state was asking the Supreme Court to rehear the case.

On Monday, Oklahoma’s Supreme Court blew her off, reiterating that the monument has to come down. There was no reason to rehear the case, as no laws had changed. The state constitution remains crystal clear:

No public money or property shall ever be appropriated, applied, donated, or used, directly or indirectly, for the use, benefit, or support of any sect, church, denomination, or system of religion, or for the use, benefit, or support of any priest, preacher, minister, or other religious teacher or dignitary, or sectarian institution as such.

So erecting a monument to the Ten Commandments, which uses public property to directly benefit a system of religion, is very obviously illegal. Even if it is funded with private money — the family of an Oklahoma State Representative paid for the monument’s construction and maintenance — you can’t use public property to endorse one belief system at the exclusion of others.

Ten Commandments, via Wikimedia Commons

Ten Commandments, via Wikimedia Commons

The exclusion principle is likely what sealed the monument’s fate. Last year, Satanists announced that they were building a monument to be placed alongside the Ten Commandments on Oklahoma’s state capitol grounds. Had Oklahoma’s Ten Commandments been allowed to stay up, chances are it would have had to share space with an eight and a half foot bronzed bust of the pagan idol Baphomet. According to the Oklahoma-based Star Tribune, “A Hindu leader in Nevada, an animal rights group and the satirical Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster also have made requests” to have monuments placed alongside the Ten Commandments.

As JT Eberhard at Patheos noted, Governor Fallin had also tried to justify her decision to keep the monument up by suggesting that the state legislature could act, passing a law to exempt the monument. Not only would this still be in violation of Oklahoma’s constitution, it wouldn’t change the fact that, for now, the monument has to come down. As the ACLU’s lawyer who prosecuted the monument case said, you can look at national trends and see a time at which marijuana’s going to be legal in Oklahoma; that doesn’t mean you can open up a dispensary today.

Monday’s 7-2 majority reflected the same split as their original decision. In his dissent, Justice Doug Combs argued that the monument doesn’t constitute an endorsement of religion because — not making this up — it was placed on the north side of the capitol building, which gets less foot traffic. As Combs argued, if it were the government’s intention to endorse religion, they would have made their middle finger to non-believers just a little bit bigger and in their faces.

As his colleagues reminded him (again), that’s not how the Constitution works.

Scott Walker’s foreign policy confidant is bad news Wed, 29 Jul 2015 14:42:27 +0000 Scott Walker’s biggest perceived weakness in his bid for the 2016 Republican nomination, to say nothing of the presidency, is that he doesn’t know anything about foreign policy. And it’s not like the media came up with the idea out of thin air. Walker has never had to address issues outside of the state of Wisconsin. And despite his attempts to convince the public that being a governor of a midwestern state totally prepares you to take the reins of the world’s lone superpower — because he’s fought unions and gone on a few trade missions — no one really believes him.

Which is why it’s particularly concerning that Walker’s go-to guy for foreign policy advice is a man named Kevin Hermening.

As Murtaza Hussain at The Intercept reported yesterday, Hermening, a former US Marine who was held hostage in Iran in 1979, appears to hold a foreign policy worldview that, if lent credence in the White House, could have destructive, destabilizing effects the world over. He has called for the deportation of undocumented immigrants — particularly those of “Middle Eastern descent — along with the destruction of the capital cities of Muslim-majority countries — possibly with nuclear weapons:

In 2001, Hermening wrote an op-ed in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel calling for a response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks that would include “the destruction of the capitals of Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Sudan and Yemen,” unless the governments of those countries unequivocally agreed to help kill Osama bin Laden. “Every military response must be considered, including the use of nuclear weapons,” he wrote. In his commentary Hermening also called upon the United States to erect security fences “along the entire perimeter of the United States,” as well as deport “every illegal alien and immigrant, with a focus on removing those of Middle Eastern descent.”

Scott Walker, via Gil C /

Scott Walker, via Gil C /

Hermening clarified to The Intercept that he is not a formal foreign policy adviser to Walker, and that while the United States needed to send a “strong message” after 9/11, nuclear weapons would not have been his “first resort.”

But while Hermening may not be on Walker’s formal campaign staff, Walker has publicly cited him as a man who he turns to for foreign policy advice on a regular basis, with the Associated Press having previously called him “the face of Walker’s foreign policy,” due to their close friendship and Walker’s seeking of his council.

So Walker can distance himself from Hermening all he wants — as he has since done — but the association is still there. And until Walker’s own words on foreign policy resemble something more thoughtful than ISIS being no big deal compared to a firefighters union and Iran being a possible target for military action on “day one” of his presidency, we don’t have any reason to believe that he’s listening to anyone more sane.

The Emperor of St. Louis has a few stories to tell Tue, 28 Jul 2015 20:34:07 +0000 “Coming out in my teens in the pre-internet Bible Belt, I was fascinated with all the colorful, older queens I met who didn’t have a pot to piss in, yet had the most fascinating delusions of grandeur.

Until recently LGBT people weren’t allowed to be themselves publicly, so they created tiny fantasy worlds where they could be whatever they wanted, be that a pageant winner, a macho biker, a celebrity, one of the popular kids in their own high school reenactment, or royalty. Even their relationships were pretend, not being recognized outside the walls of gay establishments or private homes.

Like a porcupine’s quills, a sharp wit evolved out of necessity, used for defense and as a deterrent in a hostile world.”

Activist and AMERICAblog contributor Chris Andoe is out with a new book, Delusions of Grandeur: A Few Hundred Tales from the Emperor of St. Louis, and you should read it.

You shouldn’t read it because Andoe writes here, nor should you read it because John Aravosis and AMERICAblog get mentions in the book. You shouldn’t even read it because it’s currently sitting at number six in Amazon’s Hot New Releases list in Gay & Lesbian Biographies.

You should read it because it’s a riot.

Andoe’s long been known for collecting stories, and an accompanying cast of characters, that would make the most audacious screenwriter blush. As he wrote in 2013, of the “hot gay mess in St. Louis:”

You’ve got a bar owner rumored to have burned down one of his bars for the insurance money, then getting his mugshot in the paper for allegedly embezzling funds from a Hamburger Mary’s – all while former employees, who publicly complain of bad checks, vent about him showering his beautiful young boyfriend with expensive gifts including a car.

You’ve got another top bar owner charging a $30 cover for an emotional going out of business gala, only to open up for business as usual the following morning.

You’ve got a beloved local celebrity forced to resign from leading the LGBT Center for misuse of funds.

You’ve got a trans advocate who, having fallen out of favor with the establishment, bitterly calls out community pillars in epic tirades vowing revenge.

Then there’s the former Pride President turned convicted sexual predator. And this is just scratching the surface. I live in the Bay Area, have traveled from New York to New Zealand, and I’ve never seen a show like this.


Scratching the surface, indeed.

Andoe’s stories take the reader from debauchery-filled basements in East St. Louis to political activism against Anonymous in San Francisco and beyond, introducing you to a cast of characters ranging from the Mayor of Gay Oklahoma City to narcoleptic drag queens to conniving landlords to Ferguson protestors. As the Vital Voice writes, Andoe’s stories, along with the people who are featured in them, “grab you by the throat and slam you down in the backseat of a rusty Cadillac, speeding off into a blur of chaos.”

delusions of grandeur

The stories are grittier, funnier, sadder and more evocative than fiction could ever be. The reader is introduced to homeless squatters in abandoned buildings, politicians at the highest levels of municipal government, socialites, con men and combinations thereof. The reader is guided through stories of wild parties, political movements, bitter breakups and epic adventures. They are at once deeply personal and overwhelmingly relatable; blindingly absurd and cuttingly emotional.

Most importantly, they are true, which in reading the book was something that I kept having to remind myself of. The stories in Delusions of Grandeur are stories of life, death, love and reckless abandon taken to extremes few could imagine, let alone live, let alone imagine living in one lifetime.

Ben Franklin said that one should either write something worth reading or do something worth writing. Chris Andoe has done both of those things. Delusions of Grandeur is a masterful work of storytelling, guiding the reader through worlds unimaginably real. Go read it.

And, of course, share your reactions on social media, as the readers above have. The hashtag of record is #DelusionsOfGrandeur.

Clinton not ready to answer Hard Questions™ on Keystone Pipeline Tue, 28 Jul 2015 17:58:03 +0000 Hillary “Hard Questions” Clinton recently released a decidedly non-comprehensive plan to tackle climate change, with promises of more proposals and positions to be unveiled as the campaign season progresses. However, one position we apparently can’t expect candidate Clinton to ever take is where she stands on the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline, the transcontinental oil pipeline that would transport tar sands oil from Canada through the United States.

Responding to a question at a town hall earlier today, Clinton punted on where she stood on the issue, initially saying only that she didn’t want to second guess President Obama or interfere with the administration’s work on the pipeline proposal. Pressed for a followup, Clinton said, “If it’s undecided when I become president, I will answer your question.”

Later, she told reporters that “I’m sorry if people want me to. I have been very clear: I will not express an opinion until they have made a decision, and then I will do so.”

Good to know.

The town hall was Clinton’s first since climate advocates disrupted an event two weeks ago, frustrated over Clinton’s refusal to commit to banning fossil fuel extraction on federal lands. Taken together with her refusal to take a position on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, it appears as though Hillary Clinton’s stance on all climate related issues is that the environment is good, but answering Hard Questions™ about the environment is bad. And unless one of her primary opponents gains some serious ground on her, she doesn’t have any electoral imperative to say anything else.

Hillary Clinton, via Roger H. Goun / Flickr

Hillary Clinton, via Roger H. Goun / Flickr

Clinton, who as Secretary of State helped start the reviewing process for the pipeline, has been notably cagey on many of the hard questions that she herself has insisted require answers — after the campaign is over, of course. As The New Republic‘s Rebecca Leber pointed out yesterday, Clinton’s climate agenda includes an ambitious investment in renewable energy seemingly tailor-made to satisfy the criteria of billionaire Tom Steyer’s goal of getting America to 50 percent renewable energy by 2030…and no further. She has also called for what her campaign calls “safe and responsible” fossil fuel production, which climate advocates (rightly) counter is oxymoronic on its face.

All of this suggests that Clinton is ready to work around the margins to establish a climate record that she can point to, but is not willing to lay out an agenda that would lead to adaptation away from our reliance on fossil fuels — a reliance that has likely already guaranteed the loss of much of our coastline and the cities that sit on it.

It further suggests that her pattern of asking and outlining hard questions, only to refuse to answer them, wouldn’t end with a Clinton victory. It would extend into her presidency.